Veteran child psychiatrist remembered for his light touch with young patients and early work on autism
Dr. Alejandro Rodriguez, former director of the division of child psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who also conducted pivotal studies on autism and other developmental disorders in children, died of heart failure at his Palm City, Fla., home. The longtime Ruxton resident was 93. (Baltimore Sun / January 24, 2012)
The longtime Ruxton resident was 93.
"He was my teacher many, many, many years ago at Hopkins. His teaching was patient-oriented and fundamentally bedside. He'd say, 'Let's go to the bedside and see the patient,'" said Dr. J. Raymond DePaulo Jr., who is director of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Hopkins School of Medicine.
He said Dr. Rodriguez was particularly skilled in interviewing children.
"He could get them to talk when other mere mortals couldn't. He'd come in with his Venezuelan accent and get the advantage. He'd tell the children that his English wasn't so good, and could they help him, and they would tell him things," said Dr. DePaulo, who is also psychiatrist-in-chief at Hopkins Hospital.
"He was a charming and sweet man who loved children. He could relate to them in a comfortable way and disarmed them in a very kind way," Dr. DePaulo said.
The son of a businessman and a homemaker, Dr. Rodriguez was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela.
After graduating from the St. Ignacio School in Caracas, he entered the Universidad de Venezuela, where he earned his medical degree in 1939.
In 1942, Dr. Rodriguez came to Baltimore on a private scholarship to train in pediatrics at the Hopkins School of Medicine, where he studied under Dr. Edwards Park, who was pediatrician-in-chief at the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children, forerunner of today's Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
After completing his residency, Dr. Rodriguez returned to Venezuela, where he practiced pediatrics for 13 years. In 1956, he pursued training in psychiatry at Stanford University.
After a year at Stanford, he returned to Hopkins, where he completed his training in child psychiatry, which in those days was a young discipline. He studied under Dr. Leo Kanner, considered the founding father of child psychiatry, who coined the term "autism" in 1935.
Dr. Kanner teamed with Dr. Rodriguez on several seminal autism studies. One study, a 30-year follow-up of 11 children diagnosed with autism at Hopkins, described the long-term outcomes of autism in children as they age.
He also worked with Dr. Leon Eisenberg, the noted Hopkins pediatric psychiatrist who brought to the field of study rigorous research methods and conducted early studies in autism, attention-deficit disorder, learning disabilities and language manifestations of behavioral problems.
Drs. Rodriguez and Eisenberg collaborated on a 1959 published study on "school phobia" in children, and identified it as a variant of separation anxiety.
"Alejandro carried out and amplified the founding fathers' legacy by enhancing the clinical and teaching aspects of child psychiatry," said Dr. James Harris, director of developmental neuropsychiatry and a former director of child psychiatry at the Hopkins Children's Center, whom Dr. Rodriguez taught and later recruited.
Dr. Rodriguez had also been an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Hopkins medical school.
In 1968, Dr. Eisenberg, who had followed Dr. Kanner as division chief, was succeeded by Dr. Rodriguez, who became the third director of the division of child psychiatry at Hopkins, a position he held for a decade.
"He had a renowned twinkle in his eye and wisdom when it came to clinical matters. He was always interested in the most vulnerable children, children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He saw everyone," said Dr. Harris. "These were children who were considered not good treatment patients back in that era."
"Kids, especially the little ones, he touched them in a special way. He was like a grandfather and able to reach a kid, and he always seemed to enjoy helping them," said Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, who is professor of pediatrics at Hopkins.
Dr. Rodriguez maintained the weekly Continuing Care Clinic. He often would find hospital jobs for some of his former patients.
"He epitomized empathy and the concept of social responsibility," said Dr. Lawrence C. Pakula, an associate professor of pediatrics at Hopkins who also has a private practice. "He knew that being a physician didn't end at the office."
He also saw patients at St. Agnes Hospital for 15 years, and in 1977 wrote "Handbook of Child Abuse and Neglect."
Dr. Rodriguez remained a familiar figure at Hopkins after his 1978 retirement. He continued seeing patients until he was 85 and was still called in as a consultant on difficult cases.
"That was his life. … He was the type of person who never successfully retires," said his son, Dr. Ignacio Rodriguez of Edgewater, a neurologist.
He was an avid reader and a student of politics. Acquaintances described him as a "cultured raconteur."
"His conversation readily ranged from the technique of leading matadors to the qualities of Flemish portraiture," said Dr. Richard McCarrick, who completed his pediatric psychiatry fellowship under Dr. Rodriguez and is now vice dean of the School of Medicine at New York Medical College.
His wife of 59 years, Dr. Maria Luisa "Tata" Rodriguez Eraso, a psychotherapist, died in 2002.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 4 at Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church, 1454 S.W. Mapp Road, Palm City, Fla.
In addition to his son; survivors include two grandchildren.