Lauded for a life of caring

(Edmonton) Professor emeritus in pediatrics John Godel will be honoured this Alumni Weekend with a Distinguished Alumni Award recognizing his leadership in pediatric health care in remote Canadian and African communities, and his pioneering research on vitamin D and fetal alcohol syndrome.

“[This award] came as quite a surprise, but I’m very pleased,” said Godel, a member of the Order of Canada, from his home in Quadra Island, British Columbia.

Godel’s international outreach began in 1969, when he accepted a Canadian International Development Agency post as a consultant pediatrician at a teaching hospital in Lagos, Nigeria. In 1973, he moved with his family to Tunisia to serve as the chief of pediatrics in Menzel Bourguiba. While there, he championed the refurbishment of a military hospital and organized pediatric, maternal and child health services. Under his care, the mortality rate of hospitalized children markedly decreased from 50 to five per cent. 

In 1978, he returned to Edmonton as a U of A professor and chief of pediatrics at the Charles Camsell Hospital. During this time, Godel developed a passion for Canada’s North and travelled there frequently to provide health care to Aboriginal children, mentor medical students and residents, and conduct research.

Godel’s work in these isolated communities led to his groundbreaking research on the effects of alcohol on a fetus during pregnancy and the importance of vitamin D. Today, research based on Godel’s groundwork has further reinforced vitamin D’s role in preventing a variety of health issues, including forms of cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis.

Godel notes the U of A’s Department of Pediatrics had a vital role in his successes as a physician and researcher. “They were always very supportive of what I was doing�whether I was travelling to Africa or I was up North doing research�so I give them full credit for that,” says Godel.

Godel’s caring and compassionate service to the medical profession has left a remarkable legacy around the world, and many practitioners, inspired by his work, are following in his path.

“Dr. Godel taught me to appreciate the culture and background of patients,” says Sam Wong, a former student of Godel, now associate clinical professor in the U of A’s Department of Pediatrics. “I have tried to follow in his footsteps by becoming a traveling pediatrician in the North specializing in Aboriginal child health.”

Although retired, Godel continues to travel annually to Mbarara, Uganda, where he plays a large role in teaching and developing young pediatricians with the Healthy Child Uganda project.

John Godel will receive his Distinguished Alumni Award at the 2011 Alumni Recognition Awards on Sept. 22. For more information visit www.ualberta.ca/alumni/weekend.