MDA Chairman of the Board Honored with ACMG Lifetime Achievement Award

An unwavering commitment to children is a big reason why R. Rodney Howell, M.D., was honored by the American College of Medical Genetics Foundation

Article Highlights:
  • Renowned geneticist R. Rodney Howell received the American College of Medical Genetics Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his advocacy for children and leadership in the development and advancement of newborn screening.
  • Howell is involved with numerous organizations and projects that address genetic diseases in children, and is the current chairman of the MDA Board of Directors. A member of the MDA board since 1994, he also has served as chair of the MDA Scientific Advisory Committee.
by Steve Rivera on April 16, 2012 - 6:00am

It’s about the children, their health and their futures.

That’s long been the philosophy of R. Rodney Howell, M.D., renowned pediatrician and geneticist, and current chairman of the Board of Directors for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Howell’s commitment to improving the lives of children with genetic diseases is the reason why he recently was honored with the 2012 American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. Howell is a past president of the Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports ACMG’s mission to "translate genes into health."

Howell was honored for his lifelong work in the field of pediatrics and genetic research, and for his role and leadership in the development and advancement of newborn screening.

“We’re proud of Dr. Howell and this well-deserved honor,’’ said MDA Medical Director and Interim President Valerie Cwik, M.D. “MDA deeply appreciates his commitment, wisdom and leadership in guiding the Association, especially during this time of rapid change on the research front. His advocacy for children and his expertise in the area of newborn screening are invaluable as we explore the potential for early detection and early treatment of neuromuscular diseases.

“In short, Dr. Howell is outstanding at what he does and the MDA family is fortunate to have him.”

A passionate advocate for children

Howell long has been involved with organizations and projects that address genetic diseases in children, including working on the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Hereditary Disorders in Newborns and Children (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), and serving as chairman of the departments of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and the University of Miami (Fla.).

Author of more than 175 scientific articles and books, he has served on MDA’s Board since 1994 and also chaired its Scientific Advisory Committee.

Born in Concord, N.C., Howell became a master machinist in his father’s machine shop while he was still in high school, but opted upon graduation to enroll in Davidson College, where he became interested in medicine. It was while at medical school at Duke University that his passion for caring for children was born.

Howell has been a leader in, and strong advocate for, newborn screening since the 1960s.

As chair of the Committee on Newborn Screening (through the Department of Health and Human Services), and also through his work at ACMG, Howell has worked hard to forge consensus among those with differing opinions. His involvement is part of the reason why today nearly 95 percent of the 4.1 million children born in the U.S. each year are screened for some 30 genetic disorders.

“I asked him one time why he put so much time and energy into [advocacy for children],” said Daniel Armstrong, a professor and associate chair and director of the department of pediatrics at the University of Miami. “He said, ‘It’s really simple. Children can’t vote, and they need people who can vote to stand up for them.’”

Howell always has been motivated by “what was right for the child,” agreed Michele Lloyd-Puryear, who served with him on the Committee on Newborn Screening. “It seemed to be his driving force. Ego didn’t get in the way of that. It was never about him. It was about kids.’’

Howell seems to be taking his latest honor in stride.

“It’s always great to have someone recognize some of the things you have been involved with,” he said.

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