Carol Camfield, MD is a remarkable clinician and researcher whose life’s work has had transformational impact on the field of pediatric epilepsy. She spent her distinguished career dedicated to improving the lives of children with neurological disorders, especially epilepsy, and continues to participate actively as a leader and mentor for the epilepsy community of child neurologists. She has had a lifelong interest in the quality of life of the children with neurodevelopment illnesses and has in a very personal way affected many families.
Dr. Camfield spent her childhood in Ann Arbor, MI, where she was a championship tennis player, a figure skater and a sailor. She spent one year in Wisconsin before returning to the University of Michigan for her undergraduate degree and graduated from the University of Michigan medical school in 1970 (one of only 10 women in her class). She remained in Ann Arbor, at Mott Children’s Hospital for her residency in Pediatrics. There, she met the love of her life and enduring professional collaborator, Peter Camfield. After graduation, they moved to Montréal for additional training – Carol as a clinical scholar at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Peter in Child Neurology. They then made the fateful decision to move east, and settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Carol quickly realized the unparalleled opportunity of their new setting to enable a longitudinal study of every child diagnosed with epilepsy in the province of Nova Scotia between 1977 and 1985. Following this cohort with personal contacts (via many after-dinner telephone calls to families from their kitchen office) over the next 30 years enabled the Camfields to ask detailed questions that are at the heart of parents and
clinicians who care for children with epilepsy: will the seizures stop and lead to a smooth sailing trajectory or will the seizures become intractable? Will we be able to stop the medicines eventually? Will the child survive? Will there be behavioral consequences? Will the child thrive in adulthood or have lifelong psychosocial challenges? Additional key contributions included study of febrile seizures and their treatment (especially the effects of phenobarbital on behavior, sleep, and learning); use of home monitors for siblings of infants who died from SIDS; how families cope with the severe stress of Dravet syndrome; documenting that poor children with epilepsy have the same clinical course and the same needs as those who are more affluent; documentation of little benefit from routine drug screening in children with epilepsy; and recognition and prevention of pain in infants.
Drs. Camfield have been recognized as an incomparable team with prestigious awards from the International League Against Epilepsy (Best Clinical Trial of Anticonvulsant Drugs, 1983; Ambassador for Epilepsy, 2019), American Epilepsy Society (Clinical Investigator Award, 1990), Canadian League Against Epilepsy (Wilder Penfield Epilepsy Research Award, 2003), and the Canadian Pediatric Society (Career Research Award, 2010). Typical of their attitudes is this quote from a paper by Drs. Camfield: “Support groups have contributed their ideas to our research and taught us about their immeasurable fortitude and joy but impatience with our slow progress in answering critical questions about the management and treatment of childhood epilepsy.”
Despite her prolific output of nearly 200 high impact research papers, Dr. Carol Camfield spent the majority of her time as a clinician, teacher and patient advocate. Her patients especially loved watching her on television as the pediatrician on a special segment of the Canadian edition of Sesame Street. She served on numerous committees for Dalhousie University, including as chair of the medical school admissions committee and elected member of the Senate.
Perhaps her greatest impact has been her service as a research mentor. Students, residents, and faculty members have been frequent collaborators and regular visitors to the Camfield’s home. A model of work life integration, Dr. Camfield often reviews and discusses projects over tea and cookies, during sailing trips in Halifax harbor or while hiking along the coastline. Dr. Camfield has a worldwide reputation as an exceptional teacher and is much in demand as a speaker. She has taught students through visiting professorships and professional conferences all over the world.
In addition to all of their high impact professional accomplishments, Carol and Peter have made time for a life full of excitement. They make a point of staying for an extra day (or more!) whenever they travel for a conference, so that they can take in a museum or a hike or another adventure. They particularly enjoy their summers sailing on their boat (V-Max) and their winters in the backwoods of Québec (without power, phones, or facilities). They are devoted parents to their two daughters (Alaine Camfield, PhD, a conservation biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, and Renée Shellhaas, MD, MS, a child neurologist at the University of Michigan), sons-in-law (Matthew Tomlinson, a geographic information systems specialist, and Jason Shellhaas, a sports medicine physician), and their five talented grandchildren.
Carol quickly realized the unparalleled opportunity of their new setting to enable a longitudinal study of every child diagnosed with epilepsy in the province of Nova Scotia between 1977 and 1985. Following this cohort with personal contacts (via many after-dinner telephone calls to families from their kitchen office) over the next 30 years enabled the Camfields to ask detailed questions that are at the heart of parents and clinicians who care for children with epilepsy.