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Adoption medicine pioneer receives lifetime achievement award

Photo: U.S. Navy via Wikimedia

University of Minnesota Medical School Professor of Pediatrics Dana Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., has been recognized by the Joint Council on International Children’s Services for his advocacy and pioneering efforts to help establish adoption medicine as a field of practice. He received the lifetime achievement award in New York City on April 12, 2012.

“In 1985 we adopted a little boy from India and, while becoming acquainted with the process, realized that not very much was known about the medical status of adoptees,” Johnson said.

Twenty-seven years later Johnson is still working to help learn more about the situations and environments that lead to medical problems in internationally adopted children. This work, done in the hope of ensuring better health for adoptees, is known as adoption medicine.

Johnson has changed the lives of thousands of orphans worldwide. He co-founded the University’s International Adoption Clinic and has co-authored papers on the effects of ongoing institutional care as compared to family care.

While U.S. orphanages largely disappeared in the 1970s, Johnson says that the vast majority of children adopted internationally come from institutional settings such as orphanages. As children are more likely to suffer from social, nutritional and medical deprivation in institutions than they are under parental care, international adoptees are more likely to experience development and growth delays, vision and hearing problems, and emotional and behavioral troubles. Exposure to infectious diseases such as hepatitis, syphilis, HIV and tuberculosis can also pose problems.

Thanks in large part to Johnson’s pioneering efforts, adoption medicine has become an established area of specialization within pediatrics. Today it is common practice for U.S. adoptive parents to consult with an adoption medicine specialist before and after their child’s adoption.

Johnson said the most rewarding part of his work in adoption medicine is “seeing children who have clearly started out life with strikes against them going to parents that have enormous potential to provide the best possible outcome. The joy comes from meeting with children with great needs and seeing them enter families who are willing to do so much.”

Find a video from one of the adoptees Johnson helped here.

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