August 23, 2021

PIDS mourns the loss of Walter T. Hughes, MD, first president of PIDS

Dr. Walter T. Hughes

On Sunday, August 8, at the age of 91, Dr. Walter Hughes passed away. Dr. Hughes was a founding member and first president of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society and a giant in our field.

A native Tennessean, Dr. Hughes completed training at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in 1957. After serving at Walter Reed Army Institute at Fort Detrick, Dr. Hughes returned to his hometown of Cleveland, TN to practice pediatrics prior to starting an academic career at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, where he rose quickly to Physician-in-Chief. In 1969, he moved to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where he was the first pediatric infectious diseases specialist in Memphis, TN, founding the Department of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude.

In 1973, Dr. Hughes led work that identified Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) as a life-threatening infection in pediatric cancer patients. In 1977, the New England Journal of Medicine published their research showing the drug combination trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX) was highly effective for PCP prevention and treatment. The discovery again proved pivotal in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; in 1981, PCP was the first opportunistic infection identified in patients with HIV/AIDS. Dr. Hughes played an important role in establishing that TMP-SMX was also effective at preventing PCP in AIDS patients.

Quoting Dr. James Downing, President and CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: The life of Dr. Hughes offers an example to emulate. His tenacity in the face of challenges and his belief that all children deserve hope for the future pushed the bounds of discovery and saved untold lives. We join with our colleagues at St. Jude, and across our Society, to celebrate a life well lived and a legacy that will endure. 

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