Lives of the fellows

Justen Howard Passwell

b.1 April 1943 d.3 June 2006
MB ChB Cape Town(1965) MRCP(1972) FRCP(1993)

Justen Passwell, director of the Safra Children’s Hospital at the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, was recognised as the father of academic paediatrics in Israel. He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, the son of Charles and Anne Passwell. His father was a businessman. He was educated at Herzlia School and then studied medicine at the University of Cape Town. After qualifying in 1965 he immediately immigrated to Israel.

He carried out his internship and paediatric residency at the Tel Hashomer Government Hospital (as the Sheba Medical Center was previously known) and Tel Aviv University; he was to spend the next 40 years there, being referred to as ‘Passy’.

Although he had had polio as a child, he volunteered to be a medical officer in the Israeli Army and became known for his bravery, humour and loyalty. He spent a year as a research fellow at the Institute of Child Health, Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, from 1971 to 1972, and gained his MRCP. From 1976 to 1979 he was a research fellow in paediatrics and immunology at the Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. At Harvard he made several long-lasting professional relationships with distinguished leaders in the paediatric field, including Harvey Colten (head of the department of paediatrics at Washington University). Working together with Colten, Passwell spent a sabbatical as a visiting professor of paediatrics at Washington University, St Louis Hospital, from 1986 to 1987. He was offered numerous professorships in the United States, but turned them down due to his wish to live in Israel.

He was appointed director of the department of paediatrics at the Sheba Medical Center in 1985 and served as chairman of the division of paediatrics from 1980 to 1984, and from 1988 until his death. He was also head of the Samuel Jared Kushnick Pediatric Immunology Research Laboratory that was established at the Sheba Medical Center in 1986. He was appointed as a full professor of paediatrics at the University of Tel Aviv in 1991 and in 1997 was elected as head of the department of paediatrics at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tel Aviv.

He was active in many professional societies in Israel and abroad, was elected chairman of the Israel Society for Pediatric Research Society from 1980 to 1981, and was elected as a member of the European Society for Paediatric Research in 1987 and the American Pediatric Society in 1991. He was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

He received numerous research grants in the field of infectious disease and basic immunology from the World Health Organization, the US Israel Binational Science Foundation, the German-Israeli Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. He has also received grants from the Chief Scientist’s Office, several Israeli cancer charities and Tel Aviv University.

He wrote more than 100 scientific papers in prominent medical journals. His research centered on basic immunology, studying the immunology of parasitic disease, the immunology of kidney disease and, more recently, the immune response of children to bacterial dysentery. The latter research studies stemmed from his initial encounter with a child who died from shigella despite antibiotic usage. He subsequently forged a partnership with Shai Ashkenazi (Tel Aviv University) and Rachel Schneerson and John Robbins (at the National Institutes of Health), forming the Israeli Shigella Study Group, which tested the efficacy and mechanism of experimental vaccines to prevent this disease.

Passwell met his wife Leviah (Allentuck) in 1967 on the medical wards; she was then a nursing student at the same hospital and subsequently became a clinical psychologist. They had three sons – Yoni, Alon and Ron. Outside of his own family, Passwell was a ‘father’ to countless students; as a gifted and devoted teacher he ‘adopted’ many students.

Passwell envisioned and established a world-class academic medicine programme in Israel, with formal tracks for physician scientists. He mentored and trained future leaders in academic paediatrics, creating an academic environment within the paediatric service on a par with the best institutions in the world.

Justen Passwell was an exceptional doctor and scientist, who made a major contribution to improving paediatric health care in Israel and across the globe. He cared about the whole patient, and aimed at understanding disease as a prerequisite for offering optimal therapy. He will be missed by countless health care providers, patients, family and friends.

Marc E Rothenberg

[Ynetnews.com ‘Senior pediatrician dies’ 5 June 2006 www.ynetnews.com/articles/1,7340,L-3258984,00.html – accessed 7 April 2014; Haaretz ‘Dr Passwell’s visions’ 27 August 2004 www.haaretz.com/dr-passwell-s-visions-1.132866 – accessed 7 April 2014]

(Volume XII, page web)

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