Monday, April 12, 2010

John J. Kepes, MD (1928-2010)

"His death epitomizes the dwindling generation of classic neuropathologists." That's what the Mayo Clinic's Bernd Scheithauer, MD  had to say in a recent obituary for John Janos Kepes in the journal Brain Pathology. Dr. Kepes was born on March 31, 1928. He was the son of a Budapest otorhinolaryngologist and a mother who died when young John was only four years old. Dr. Kepes grew up to attend medical school in Budapest. He later escaped from Hungary with his young family as Russian forces invaded the country. Dr. Kepes ultimately made his way to the United States, where he did a neuropathology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. He then settled in Kansas City, Missouri, where he devoted the next 48 years of his life to the University of Kansas Pathology Department. Scheithauer writes: "Key career contributions had included a 1982 monograph entitled 'Meningiomas: Biology, Pathology and Differential Diagnosis,' his 1991 co-discovery with Dr. Lucien Rubinstein of 'Pleomorphic Xanthoastrocytoma,' as well as his detailed 1993 description of 'Tumefactive Demyelination.' "

I myself had the honor of looking at slides with Dr. Kepes once in 2005. I'll always remember his insightful observations on the cytology of a case of papillary ependymoma.

In an obituary in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, Dr. Lucy Rorke-Adams remembers that, "John was the ultimate in erudition, and no diagnostic problem was too difficult for him to unravel." The JNEN article continues to quote Dr. Rorke-Adams: "Dr. Kepes grew up in Hungary, 'a land he loved but which rejected him and his family at a stage in their lives when they were ready to contribute gifts of healing to their countrymen. The Kepeses' desperate escape from horrors brought them to our country, where John ripened into one of the most learned and distinguished neuropathologists of our generation.' "

After the loss of his beloved wife, Magda, in 2006, Dr. Kepes moved to an assisted living residence in the Kansas City area. It was there, according to his obituary in the Kansas City Star, in the early hours of February 2, 2010, that Dr. Kepes passed away peacefully, with his daughter by his side.


shipcolldoc said...

John was a great neuropathologist and a great friend to young neuropathologists. When I was just starting out and met him at AANP meetings he was always friendly, always had a good word, and always took the time to discuss matters if you were interested in talking to him. As I became more expert myself he was one of the few people I relied upon when I needed to send a case to someone else for another opinion, and I knew I could get a sensible explanation of whatever opinion he would give me, rather than just a diagnosis delivered as if from Mt Olympus. He was also a cultured person, interested in music and history and able to talk about many things apart from neuropathology and medicine. I will miss him a great deal, as will we all.

Brian E. Moore, MD, MEd said...

Touching words, Shipcolldoc. Thank you.

jd said...

I never had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Kepes. It's sad that all these giants and pioneers in neuropathology are leaving us more and more. I wish I came of age in neuropathology during the era of these giants.

Unknown said...

I worked with John for 6 months as a neurosurgical resident at Kansas 1969-73. He told me about carrying Magda out on his back to escape Hungary. He taught me neuro path and even more about humanity.He reviewed many cases for me in practice. I will miss him dearly.

Stephen Goldware, MD

Brian E. Moore, MD, MEd said...

Thank you for your comment, goldware. If only each of us could make one-tenth of the impact that Dr. Kepes did, the world would be a much better place.