August 13, 1998
Thomas E. Elkins, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Gynecologic Specialties at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an advocate for gynecologic education and training in Africa, died Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 48.
Elkins, who joined the Hopkins faculty in July 1997, also was chief of pelvic reconstructive surgery and urogynecology. Named one of "America's Best Doctors for Women" in a 1997 Good Housekeeping poll of peers, the Cockeysville, Md., resident was considered an international authority on pelvic reconstructive surgery.
"Tom was an outstanding clinician and humanitarian who did much to advance women's health both in the United States and abroad," said Harold E. Fox, M.D., professor and chairman of gynecology and obstetrics at Hopkins. "He was well-loved by his colleagues, patients and students. We are grief-stricken by this loss of a colleague and friend."
Elkins was born in 1949 in Corpus Christi, Texas. He received his bachelor's degree from Baylor University, Waco, Texas, in 1972 and his medical degree with honors from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, in 1975. He later earned a master of arts in religion from Harding University, Memphis, Tenn., in 1984, specializing in marital-family counseling and ethics.
He pioneered new surgical approaches for pelvic relaxation, a syndrome affecting growing numbers of women in the aging U.S. population. The women, who generally have had multiple children, experience problems with pelvic musculature and ligaments, causing the bladder and rectum to drop into or through the vagina. In one type of surgery, he attached strips of fascia (the fibrous material that encases muscle) from the leg to the pelvic floor, closing off bulging areas to preserve vaginal depth. He lectured on this work to physician groups around the world.
Elkins also created a program to develop ob/gyn postgraduate training in Ghana, West Africa. When the program started in 1987, fewer than 10 ob/gyn consultants were practicing in the region. In January 1998, he attended the program's first graduation ceremony, moderating the scientific session and serving as main speaker at a banquet to honor the 14 physician graduates. Twenty-five more are expected to complete the program in the next five years, and maternal death rates have shown a dramatic drop -- from 10 to 14 deaths per 1,000 births to four to six deaths per 1,000 births.
An expert in bioethics, Elkins served on the American Academy of Pediatrics task force that formulated the infant bioethics committee guidelines for all neonatal nurseries. He had served on the National Advisory Board for Ethics and Reproduction and on the National Professional Association task force to design a curriculum for teaching law in medicine. Internationally, he developed a series of biomedical ethics lectures as part of the Federation of International Gynecologists and Obstetricians, which was the first such presentation in West Africa for ob/gyn programs.
"Tom was not only a widely respected and accomplished surgeon but also a renowned teacher and mentor to hundreds of students worldwide," said Edward D. Miller, M.D., dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "The Hopkins family is saddened by his death and offers its deepest sympathy to his family." Early in his career, Elkins did volunteer mission work as a physician in Africa and completed an internship in family medicine before completing his obstetrics and gynecology residency in 1980 at Naval Regional Medical Center, Portsmouth, Va.
Elkins joined the faculty of the University of Tennessee Medical School, Memphis, in 1983, as a clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology. He also had worked for the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, serving as chief of gynecology from 1987 to 1992. Elkins then went to New Orleans, where he served as professor and chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Louisiana State University School of Medicine, and as an adjunct professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
He developed model clinics for people with mental retardation and physical disabilities and was the featured coordinator for educational videos on the topic sent to all American ob/gyn teaching programs in 1996-97. He had served as vice president of the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology as part of his work for this population, and served nine years as a member of the National Down Syndrome Congress board of directors.
He served on the editorial boards for several gynecology journals and was a member of numerous professional organizations. In his spare time, he had served as a coach for youth sports, a Cub Scout master and church deacon.
Elkins is survived by his wife, Carolyn; two sons, Jeffrey and John; a daughter, Virginia; his parents, Novis and Laura, of Harlingen, Texas; and a brother, James, also of Harlingen.
Viewings will be held Friday, Aug. 14, from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Lemmon Funeral Home of Dulaney Valley Inc., 10 W. Padonia Road, Timonium; and on Saturday, Aug. 15, at 12:30 p.m. at Towson United Methodist Church, Hampton Lane and Dulaney Valley Road, Towson. Memorial services will held Saturday, Aug. 15, at 1:30 p.m. at the church. Additional services will be held in Texas.
In lieu of flowers, donations for medical missions in Dr. Elkins' name may be sent to Valley Baptist Church, 1401 N. York Road, Lutherville, MD 21093.