John W. Athens (Jack) died suddenly at his home in Salt Lake City on June 1st. He was 93 years old. Jack was the Chief of the Division of Hematology from 1967 until 1987. Jack was born near Duluth, Minnesota. His father was an ophthalmologist and his mother was a registered nurse. Jack received his M.D. degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1948 and interned at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital where contact with Clement Finch and Charles Rath stimulated Jack’s interest in hematology. He was awarded an Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship, which led to an assignment to the Army Medical Services Graduate School where he helped establish a radioisotope laboratory and began his studies of red cell survival using radiolabeling techniques. He then completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of Utah and stayed on as a hematology fellow with Drs. Wintrobe and Cartwright.
Jack’s early research at Utah focused on nutritional anemias in pigs due to deficiencies of copper, amino acids and various vitamins. His experience with radiolabeled red cells proved useful and Jack developed a method for radiolabeling neutrophils. In a series of papers published in the early 1960s he demonstrated that two pools of neutrophils exist, one circulating and a second marginated by adherence to vascular endothelium. He showed that these two pools were in equilibrium and that the marginated pool could be readily mobilized under specific conditions. Jack’s studies made it possible to quantify neutrophil production and survival in both normal and disease states. These were seminal observations and many of his publications are considered classics in the field of leukocyte kinetics.
In addition to his research accomplishments Jack was a skilled clinician and a supportive mentor to hematology fellows and junior faculty members. After he retired he continued to attend weekly Medical Grand Rounds and weekly hematology research conferences. He remained fully engaged in the scholarly affairs of the Division of Hematology until his death. We will miss this wonderful colleague and friend.