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Dr. Catherine A. Neill, 84, pediatric cardiology pioneer


Dr. Catherine A. Neill, a pioneering and world-renowned pediatric cardiologist and faculty member at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, died Thursday of cancer at a hospice in Wimbledon, England. The Charles Village resident was 84.

A pioneer in various areas of pediatric cardiology, she was the first to recognize and name in 1960 the "scimitar syndrome," which a Hopkins news release described as "a cardio-pulmonary defect in which the pulmonary veins from an abnormally developed right lung drain into the inferior vena cava; on X-ray, the defects resembles a curved sword, or scimitar."

"The world has lost a master of pediatric cardiology and many of us at Hopkins have lost a good friend," said Dr. Richard Ross, dean emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a written statement. "She was first and foremost a skillful and wise physician. She was a gentle British lady with a store of knowledge about the heart and the history of pediatric cardiology."

Dr. Neill published almost 100 scientific papers and more than 40 book chapters on childhood heart disease during her career, according to the release. She also co-wrote two books: The Developing Heart: A "History" of Pediatric Cardiology and The Heart of a Child: What Families Need to Know About Heart Disorders in Children.

Colleagues said Dr. Neill was as gracious and humble as she was a skilled clinician who treated colleagues, trainees, patients and their families with great care.

Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at Hopkins, told Neill in a recent e-mail that she was amazed by the "gentle, nurturing manner in which you accomplished so much."

She added: "Those of us who came into medicine when women were truly a minority, saw you as a woman of strength, purpose and sincerity who was able to do all of this without the ego, bravado and need for control/recognition that so often appears to be part of successful careers."

Dr. Peter Rowe, a professor of pediatrics at Hopkins and friend of Dr. Neill's since his childhood, said he remembered one instance in 1981 when he was an intern and she was a senior pediatrics faculty member.

Working in the nursery, they had just found out that a very sick child would likely die and prepared to give the news to the family. Dr. Rowe said he was amazed at Dr. Neill's compassion in relating the bad news.

"Dr. Neill explained the situation to them in the most honest, but kind and gentle way," he said.

Dr. Rowe, whose family has known Dr. Neill since they came to Baltimore from New Zealand in 1963, said Dr. Neill had an understanding of how to deal with the difficulty of treating sick children and explaining their illnesses to loved ones.

Born and raised in England, Dr. Neill earned her medical degree from London's Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, receiving her training in general medicine and pediatrics. From 1950 to 1951, Dr. Neill was a pediatric cardiology fellow at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. From there, she moved to the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children, a precursor to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, training under renowned cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig.

When Dr. Taussig retired in 1963, Dr. Neill became the interim director of the division of pediatric cardiology at Hopkins. Dr. Neill was a professor of pediatrics at Hopkins for 37 years, retiring in 1993, although she remained connected to the school by volunteering until last month, when she returned to England.

A memorial service at Johns Hopkins will be planned in the coming months, Dr. Rowe said.

Dr. Neill is survived by brothers Sir Brian Neill of London; Lord Patrick Neill of Dorset, England; and Desmond Neill of Toronto.

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