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"He should not be forgotten"

Family, friends, and former patients of the late John G. Griffith endow a fund to support Gynecology and Obstetrics residents in his name
Posted October 11, 2016

Larry Griffith remembers a Sunday evening — not long ago, but not as recently as he'd like — when his son, John, excused himself from the dinner table. An assistant professor in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics and director of its Fibroid Center, John Griffith was off the clock, but he didn’t hesitate to answer his beeping pager and call one of his residents.

"That happened a lot," Larry Griffith says. "It speaks to the ease with which the house staff could speak with John, to reach out and talk through a case with him. They felt very comfortable doing that."

John Griffith's passion for supporting his residents is a primary reason Larry and his wife established the John G. Griffith, MD, Endowment Fund in 2007, shortly after John's tragic death while on vacation with his wife and children. The fund, which distributes awards to two Gyn-Ob residents annually, has grown to $450,000 through gifts from the family, but also more than 80 individual donors — friends, colleagues, and former patients who want to see Griffith's legacy endure.

"Every year when we give these awards, I say a little bit about him, because he should not be forgotten," says Jean Anderson, the current director of gynecologic specialties who, in 2005, recruited Griffith to Hopkins.

The awards are the $1,000 Griffith Gynecologic Training Award, which recognizes a senior resident for outstanding commitment to patient care and service, and the $5,000 Griffith International Training Initiative Grant, which supports a junior resident in completing an elective rotation outside of the United States. Together, the awards keep alive Griffith's dedication to supporting medical education and providing medical care to the underserved throughout the world. Once per year, Larry Griffith recalls, his son would use a week of his personal vacation time to work at a medical camp in Mexico. John would work for more than 12 hours per day, and he'd bring two or three duffel bags full of donated supplies to help stock the clinic's shelves.  

"That was important to John," Larry Griffith says, "and that’s where having an award for international work comes from."

Meghana Desale, MD (Med '13), the 2015 Griffith International Training Initiative grant recipient, chose to use the funds to travel to India, to a remote medical clinic in the jungle of Maharasthra. She spent six weeks there in early 2016, performing surgeries, working in the clinic, and conducting research among the area's community health workers about reproductive health trends there.

"One of the things that was an impetus for me to go into medicine was the opportunity to work with underserved communities," Desale says, adding that merely flying to and from India would have been prohibitively expensive without the Griffith Fund's support. "I'm very thankful that I could spend my elective going somewhere that reminded me why I wanted to become an OB-GYN."

Before she traveled to India, Desale met Griffith's family for dinner and had a chance to learn more about the man behind the fund. A man who was so excited about launching Hopkins' Fibroid Clinic that he called Anderson as she was on her way to a vacation, just because he wanted to share some ideas. A man who would spend a week of his vacation time each year in Mexico, performing surgeries for people in need. A man who'd likely be very proud of the department that's grown so much, thanks in part to the fund that bears his name.

"John's death was a terrible tragedy, for his family and for us. But this fund, and what it provides for our residents, is something he'd be very happy has come from this tragedy," says Anderson, who holds joint appointments in the School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "The more support we have like the John Griffith Fund, the bigger footprint we can make on the world."

Experience the impact of the Griffith International Training Initiative Grant in action as Meghana Desale shares thoughts — and a couple of photos — from her time in India.