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Helping Babies Breathe Easier

With typical humility, Andrew R.A. Colin, M.D., accepted the prestigious Batchelor Family Chair for Cystic Fibrosis and Pediatric Pulmonology by remembering the young patient who motivated his life’s work.

“By the time we received my first-ever positive sweat test, the marker of cystic fibrosis, the baby was in respiratory failure,” Colin said, as his wife, Varda Colin, M.D., a psychiatrist, and their son Michael Colin, M.D., joined members of the Batchelor Foundation and other dignitaries and friends at a ceremony last May at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute. “There were no ICUs for children, and we watched the child die despite all the antibiotics. It was then that I decided I had to learn more about lung diseases and more aggressive treatments.”

Andrew R.A. Colin, M.D., has devoted his career to saving the lives of children with cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary conditions.

True to his word, Colin spent the next three decades absorbing everything he could about pediatric pulmonology and cystic fibrosis, a disease that about 1,000 Americans are born with each year, and to which they often succumb by their mid-30s.

The journey would take the Romanian-born Colin, who moved with his family to Israel at age 3, to hospitals and patient bedsides across the world. His quest for a cure later guided him to a fellowship at Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard’s primary pediatric teaching hospital, where he began taking a closer look at the physiology of lung disease.

“I wanted to do all I possibly could to help my patients,” Colin said. “The environment was extremely stimulating, and it allowed me to conduct research and expand my work in a focused way.”

By then the pediatric pulmonology field had grown immensely, and much more was known about cystic fibrosis. In Boston, Colin worked with the late Jeremiah “Jere” Mead, M.D., known internationally for his work in respiratory mechanics; Mary Ellen Avery, M.D., famous for discovering in 1959 that respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies was a result of an absence of lung surfactant; and the late Mary Ellen Wohl, M.D., who developed several techniques to evaluate lung function in young children.

“There have been many great advances, but it’s still a very difficult specialty,” Colin said. “The equipment is complicated, the science behind it is not always clear, and it’s risky business because we are dealing with sick babies.”

Four years after his fellowship, olin returned to Harvard, eventually becoming an associate professor of pediatrics, clinical director of the Division of Respiratory Diseases and the Pulmonary Function Lab and co-director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center. He was part of the team that developed infant pulmonary function testing and special procedures for pediatric bronchoscopy.

Colin’s gift for teaching is legendary. He received Harvard’s Klaus Peter International Award and was the first recipient of his namesake honor, the Andrew A. Colin Teaching Award. Recently he was named president of the 2011 International Congress on Pediatric Pulmonology.

Since joining UM in 2005, Colin has been immersed in his plan to transform the Miller School into the region’s premier academic institution for cystic fibrosis and pediatric pulmonology at both the basic science and bedside levels. He is building on the work of the first holder of the Batchelor Family Chair, the late Robert “Budge” McKey, M.D., the renowned pediatrician who founded the UM Cystic Fibrosis Center in 1960 and remained the director for almost four decades.

“In coming to Miami from Harvard, I see a major opportunity to build a
center of excellence for pulmonology,” said Colin, who already has boosted research and publications, and expanded the fellowship program.

“Dr. Colin is among the finest pediatric pulmonologists in the world,” said Steven E. Lipshultz, M.D., George E. Batchelor Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and associate executive dean for child health. “I am awed by his ability to help children and their families in a compassionate and caring way that is based on research and state-of-the-art findings.”

Many of Colin’s trainees have gone on to become leaders in the field of pediatric pulmonology.

“My role here is to build—with an emphasis on academic medicine, which means we will become the place that will deal with the clinical cases that nobody else can or will be able to, regardless of reimbursement,” Colin said. “We are well on our way.”

“We are very proud of Dr. Colin for all that he does and all that he will be able to continue to do as the Batchelor Chair in Cystic Fibrosis and Pediatric Pulmonology,” Lipshultz said. “We are grateful to the Batchelor Foundation for their support of Dr. Colin and our center’s quest to prevent and cure children’s lung diseases.”