Symposium to honor MU doctor

Doctor pioneered disease treatments for children.
Friday, October 6, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:56 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Modest to a fault, warm, brilliant and refined are just a few ways long-time friends describe James T. Cassidy.

Despite Cassidy’s private nature, his career will be commemorated at a pediatric rheumatology symposium Saturday at MU.

The international symposium will cover topics such as the history of pediatric rheumatology, new therapies, evolving issues and uncommon or unusual diseases.

“We are so pleased to be able to recognize (Cassidy) for a lifetime of dedication to children and to the science behind their care,” said Michael Cooperstock, MU department of child health, director of the division for infectious diseases. “This symposium is a small attempt to provide him with recognition.”

Cassidy declined an interview, but his colleagues had no problem praising him.

Cassidy, now professor emeritus, has been chief of pediatric rheumatology at MU for 18 years. He has specialized in the field for decades and is internationally known for his contributions in joint-related and autoimmune diseases, according to Cooperstock.

Cassidy founded one of the first clinics to evaluate and treat children with rheumatic diseases, said Sara Walker, professor emeritus at the department of internal medicine.

Cassidy started out as a specialist in internal medicine. He then became a subspecialist in adult rheumatic diseases and eventually his focus shifted to pediatric rheumatology.

Cassidy has been at the forefront of research and was one of two authors of the only textbook of pediatric rheumatology in English, said Cooperstock. The work, “Textbook of Pediatric Rheumatology,” is the standard and authoritative work in the field, according to both Cooperstock and Walker. In addition, Cassidy has written a number of scientific articles, papers and chapters of books dedicated to his field.

“He’s the world’s eminent rheumatologist, and he spent all his time updating that book,” said Laura Hillman, MU professor of child health. After a new version is published it is time to start updating it because the field is new and discoveries are made frequently, she said.

“(Cassidy) hasn’t been seeing patients for a couple of years, but was an eminent clinician in terms of his abilities, which is a real art and takes a lot of skill,” Hillman said. “He’s an expert. His clinical skills are marvelous, and he is very good at teaching and presenting things.”

In Hillman’s opinion, Cassidy’s biggest contribution is the detailed knowledge that he has been willing to share with others through teaching residents and speeches he has given all over the world.

Cassidy has a passion for his work, said Walker. When a child has a disease it becomes a problem for the child’s entire family, she said, and Cassidy has spent his life trying to ensure that there are enough doctors with adequate knowledge in his field to care for children. He has done this though providing leading researchers with support and collaboration, she said.

“He’s kind of a renaissance man,” said Walker, when referring to Cassidy’s many interests, including opera, travel and literature.

Cassidy maintains a large collection of classical music and often attends concerts, said Hillman. Prior to each concert, he and his wife sit down and listen to all the pieces that they are going to hear in order to prepare for the concert.

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