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Dr. John G. Bartlett, a pioneer in HIV/AIDS study and co-founder of the country’s second clinic, at Johns Hopkins Hospital, dies

Dr. John Bartlett
Dr. John Bartlett

Dr. John G. Bartlett, an internationally recognized pioneer in the study and treatment of HIV/AIDS patients who co-founded the country’s second HIV/AIDS clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, died Jan 19 from pneumonia at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, New York. The Guilford resident was 83.

“Over his long and illustrious career, John Bartlett epitomized the best of Johns Hopkins. He was a brilliant researcher in more than one scientific area, a skilled and caring clinician, and a charismatic and devoted educator,” said Dr. Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins, in a statement. “Anyone who spent time with him was struck not only by his energy but the kindness and joy he brought to every interaction.”

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Dr. David L. Thomas, who is the current director of the Johns Hopkins Division of Infectious Diseases and co-director of Clinical Core at the Johns Hopkins Center for AIDS Research and a professor of medicine, is a longtime colleague and friend.

“He was one of those people whose impact was big enough throughout the medical community,” Dr. Thomas said. “He was tireless and would start his day at 4 a.m. He was an extremely capable man and his legacy comes down to his ability, and that was important, to see things clearly a year before anyone else could see it. He was that kind of person, who saw ahead, and had that ability to encapsulate important elements and make them very understandable. It was like bringing science to poetry.”

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He said that Dr. Bartlett was “inspiring to be around.”

“John was a very busy person who always saw the big picture. He would care about what you wanted him to care about,” he said. “He was very studious and between the hours of 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., he did not like to be bothered, as he was about getting his work done, and didn’t sit around gossiping or being chatty. He was a mission centered and goal oriented person.”

John Gill Bartlett, son of Kenneth G. Bartlett, a Syracuse University dean, and his wife, Bernice Kleinhans Bartlett, was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, where he graduated from Nottingham High School.

He was a 1959 graduate of Dartmouth College and earned his medical degree in 1963 from the State University of New York College of Medicine, now known as SUNY Upstate Medical University College of Medicine in Syracuse.

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Initially planning to become a cardiologist, Dr. Bartlett completed postdoctoral training at the Harvard University affiliated Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, and the University of Alabama in Birmingham where he studied cardiac surgery.

Dr. John Bartlett, a pioneer in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment and study, shown here in an undated file photo, treating a patient suffering from the disease.
Dr. John Bartlett, a pioneer in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment and study, shown here in an undated file photo, treating a patient suffering from the disease. (JHU)

During the Vietnam War, Dr. Bartlett served with the Army Medical Corps and from 1965 to 1967 was assigned to the Third Field Hospital in Saigon, where he attained the rank of captain.

While serving in Vietnam, he became interested in infectious diseases, and a senior physician at the field hospital urged him to, once he completed his military service, pursue the study of infectious diseases at the University of California at Los Angeles, which he did, and later worked at a Veterans Affairs hospital before joining the UCLA faculty.

Dr. Bartlett returned to Boston in 1975 when he began working at Tufts University’s New England Medical Center, until 1980, when he was recruited to come to Hopkins to be chief of its then fledgling infectious diseases division.

Before his work in the field of HIV/AIDS, he was renowned for his discovery of what he termed “the bug” --- Clostridium difficile or C Difficile --- which is the cause of antibiotic-associated colitis, a chronic and debilitating diarrhea that sometimes afflicts patients who are taking antibiotics.

He also specialized in researching and treating community-acquired pneumonia, antimicrobial resistance, anaerobic infections and bioterrorism.

When Dr. Bartlett arrived in Baltimore, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases had three full-time staff members and a budget of $2,000,000, which grew during his tenure to become one of Hopkins’ largest divisions with 55 faculty members, a staff of 177, and a research budget of $40 million.

When he stepped down in 2006, the division was treating more than 5,100 patients annually with the “latest in medication protocols, many of which he helped validate through clinical trials,” according to a Hopkins’ profile of Dr. Bartlett.

In 1984, Dr. Bartlett and his colleague, Dr. B. Frank Polk, an epidemiologist, co-founded the country’ second HIV/AIDS clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital which as become one of the world’s preeminent HIV/AIDS treatment centers.

“John Bartlett was a giant in the field of infectious diseases, a visionary who anticipated all the most exciting developments that led the efforts to combat foes from HIV to antimicrobial resistance,” Dr. Thomas explained in the Hopkins’ profile.

It was not uncommon for Dr. Bartlett to work more than 100 hours while treating HIV/AIDS patients, administering trials of potential medicines and answering questions from physicians from across the country. He spent time teaching, lecturing, serving on national committees and organizations, while writing hundreds of articles, books and chapters.

It was three drug “cocktails” and new antiviral drugs that revolutionized HIV’AIDS treatment in the early 1990s.

“People are living quite long, and it's a remarkable success story,” Dr. Bartlett told The Baltimore Sun in a 2006 interview marking the 25th anniversary of the AIDs epidemic. “It’s remarkable what we now have to offer, and it’s extended beyond that into a global effort.”

He recalled in the article his first AIDS patient, a female drug user, who lost 60 pounds and quickly died from the once rare Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia.

“The patients were terribly stigmatized. People didn’t like the people who got it,, either gay men or injection drug users, or they feared they’d get it by being in the same room or touching the same pencils. And everyone died,” he said.

In 1991, Dr. Bartlett and Ann Finkbeiner, a Baltimore science writer, wrote a book for people who were diagnosed with AIDS.

“Titled ‘A Guide to Living with HIV infection,’ it is 368 pages and covers everything from whom to tell about a positive HIV test to the symptoms of AIDS,” reported The Sun in 1994.

His “Bartlett’s Medical Management of HIV Infection,”first published in 1994, is now in its 17th edition. He also was the author of “A Pocket Guide to Adult HIV/AIDS Treatment,” now retitled “Bartlett Pocket Guide to HIV/AIDS Treatment,” that was published in the early 1990 and is in its 19th edition and remains the definitive textbook on HIV clinical care.

“In addition to his skills as a speaker and a writer, Dr. Bartlett was acclaimed for the compassion he showed for his patients with HIV/AIDS,” according to the Hopkins’ profile. “At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, those who had the disease dealt with clinicians who couldn’t understand their illness --- and were afraid of them.”

Dr. Bartlett’s work earned him many awards and recognition, and in 2005, he was presented the Alexander Fleming Award for lifetime achievement from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the Maxwell Finland award from the national Foundation for Infectious Diseases for groundbreaking research and treatment accomplishments.

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Dr. Bartlett retired from Hopkins in 2014, and in 2017, Hopkins Hospital opened the John G. Bartlett Specialty Practice, which is a multimillion dollar outpatient facility with a 25-exam room clinic for patients with HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.

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Dr. Eliot Godofsky, a colleague, worked closely in the infectious disease division with Dr. Bartlett from 1990 to 1992.

“In many respects,” he explained in the Hopkins’ profile, “John Bartlett was the William Shakespeare of infectious diseases. It was hard to believe that a single person could accomplish everything he did in one lifetime. Not only was the sheer volume of work impressive, but its breadth was truly incredible.”

He was a member of Second Presbyterian Church in Guilford.

Dr. Bartlett was an accomplished artist, who worked in oils and enjoyed painting portraits and still-life. He was also a Ravens and Orioles fan.

His wife of 50 years, the former Jean Scott, a registered nurse, died last year.

It was Dr. Bartlett’s request that no services be held.

He is survived by two sons. Scott Bartlett of Memphis, Tennessee, and Josh Scott of Brooklyn, New York; a daughter, Valerie Clark of Bronxville, New York; a sister, Bette Weinheimer of Akron, Ohio; and eight grandchildren.

Because of incorrect information supplied to The Sun, a previous version of this obituary omitted that Dr. Bartlett is also survived by a son, Jeff Bartlett of Los Angeles, and a daughter, Tracy Oakland of Ojai, California, from an earlier marriage.

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