Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


James Riviello, MD

Profile written by Howard Goodkin, MD, PhD

photo of James Riviello, MD

Dr. James “Jim” Riviello was born in Philadelphia and grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J. His father was a general medical practitioner and his mother an office manager. During high school, he was interested in politics and history and briefly considered law as a career until he spent a week shadowing in a law practice.

Jim entered Tufts University in 1970 thinking he might be a classical historian, an area of study that his father did not view as very practical. Jim graduated from Tufts in 1974 with a double major in the classics and biology and remained at Tufts for medical school. During medical school, he quickly fell in love with Pediatrics. Then, at the start of his Pediatrics internship at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children (SCHC), he fell in love with his co-intern and lockermate Susan B. Torrey, MD, whom he later married.

As a medical student and pediatrics resident, he worked with Dr. Angelo DiGeorge (of DiGeorge syndrome) and strongly considered pediatric endocrinology as a subspecialty. Unfortunately, when he asked Dr. DiGeorge about doing a fellowship, Dr. DiGeorge had just given away the last fellowship slot for the following year and didn’t have a position available. Inspired by his time working with the neurologist Warren D. Grover in the ICU, Jim decided to pursue a child neurology fellowship at SCHC with Dr. Grover. Notably, Dr. DiGeorge called him later to say that one of the endocrinology fellows was dropping out and he now had a position he’d like to offer Dr. Riviello. Not one to back out of a promise, Jim declined. The rest is history!

Jim’s very first weekend of child neurology training in 1980 provided him with a crash course in neurocritical care as he cared for 3 near-drowning patients and 2 patients with Reye Syndrome. During his training, Jim credits Lawrence Brown as a standout teacher of child neurology who, along with Catherine Foley, introduced Jim to and refined his skills in EEG. After completing his child neurology fellowship, Jim expanded on his building interest in neurocritical care by doing a year of anesthesiology at Temple University.

After a brief stint on faculty at the A.I. duPont Institute in Wilmington, he was recruited back to SCHC by Dr. Grover in 1985. Together, they developed a five-year plan for Dr. Riviello to become a neurocritical care specialist while helping with the epilepsy service. Many of his early papers from SCHC were on status epilepticus or neurocritical care topics. He recalls caring for patients with maple-syrup-urine disease with Dr. DiGeorge and co-authoring his favorite paper with Dr. DiGeorge and Dr. Foley (Riviello et al. “Cerebral edema causing death in children with maple-syrup-urine disease”. Journal of Pediatrics 1991).

In 1990, he left SCHC and moved to Maine Medical Center where he joined the Maine Neurology group. Jim served as the epilepsy specialist for the practice and teamed with Walter Allan and Steven Rioux to create a pediatric intensive care service, which he directed. After a year, his wife Susan (a pediatric emergency medicine specialist) was recruited to Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) by Gary Fleisher to develop their satellite program in Framingham. Dr. Joseph Volpe created a position in the Epilepsy Program for Jim with the goal of expanding the ICU EEG monitoring.

At BCH, Jim had the privilege of working with many excellent pediatric epileptologists including Gregory Holmes, Mohamad Mikati, Frank Duffy, and Sandy Helmers as well as excellent EEG technicians like Lewis Kull and Faye McNall. While in Boston, he developed expertise in epilepsy surgery and international recognition for the treatment of epileptic encephalopathies (specifically Landau-Kleffner Syndrome and ESES). In addition to his pediatric epilepsy role, he also directed the BCH inpatient neurology service for which he developed a comprehensive teaching curriculum and quickly become a sought-after mentor and teacher of many of today’s leading pediatric epileptologists including Elizabeth Thiele, Ignacio Valencia, Howard Goodkin, Cigdem Akman, Elizabeth Donner, Rana Said, Ann Poduri, Cecil Hahn, Alex Rotenberg, Tristan Sands, and many others. In 1996, Dr. Riviello along with Adre du Plessis, Michael Rivkin, Daivd Urion, and Basil Darras created the Neurocritical Care Service, the first dedicated pediatric neurocritical care service in the US. He worked full-time on the Neurocritical Care Service, furthering his interests in status epilepticus, refractory status epilepticus, continuous EEG monitoring, and Neurocritical Care, while also remaining active on the Epilepsy/EMU service.

Dr. Riviello left BCH in 2007 for Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH)/Baylor University. He spent time in New York City at NYU (2011-2013) and Columbia (2013-2017) before returning to TCH. During this period of his career, he worked alongside many leaders of pediatric neurology and epilepsy including Gary Clarke, Dan Curry, Orrin Devinsky, and Howard Weiner. He is especially proud of his work at TCH with Drs. Weiner and Curry, with whom he pioneered the field of minimally invasive pediatric neurosurgery, starting with laser ablation and neuromodulation.

At TCH, Dr. Riviello has served as the Director of Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology, the Chief of Neurophysiology, and developed a Neurocritical Care program. Since his arrival at TCH, he has been part of tremendous growth of the faculty and facilities. The TCH Neurocritical Care and Epilepsy Programs now include 20 faculty members, an 11-bed Pediatric Neurointensive Care Unit with hard-wired continuous EEG machines, a dedicated EMU within the Neurointensive Care Unit, a neurocritical care fellowship, and (soon) a Neonatal Neurology Service.

Included in Dr. Riviello’s research portfolio are several projects on FIRES, including the use of anakinra, biomarkers, and a Delphi analysis. He is now a Board member for the NORSE institute and was a founding member of the Pediatric Status Epilepticus Research Group (pSERG) along with Tobias Loddenkemper, Tracy Glauser, Kevin Chapman, William Gaillard, and Howard Goodkin. The pSERG collaboration has now produced about 15 papers. His other favorite paper is the one he wrote along with Mustafa Sahin (while he was a his child neurology resident) on “Outcome of severe refractory status epilepticus in children” (Epilepsia 2001). He and Mustafa wrote three papers together on refractory status epilepticus.

Dr. Riviello is a beloved educator and has been recognized with teaching awards at Boston Children’s in 1995 and 2007, the teaching award for the entire Department of Neurology at Columbia in 2015, and the Neurology Teaching Award at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine in 2018. He has been inspired by his TCH Neurocritical care colleagues including Jenny Erklauer, Yi-Chen Lai, and Sarah Risen. Several of the Child Neurology residents on the TCH Neurocritical care service created a T-Shirt with Jim’s likeness on it, wearing sunglasses, with the initials W.W.R.D., meaning, “What would Riviello do?”

Dr. Riviello is proud to be the descendant of two other lifetime achievement award winners, Dr. Grover, awarded in 2011 (for whom Jim wrote the biography), and Dr. Grover’s mentor at CHOP, Dr. Charles Kennedy, in 2007. He is also proud to have worked closely with Dr. Lombroso at BCH, another lifetime achievement awardee.

Dr. Riviello believes that this Mary and Roger Brumback Lifetime Achievement Award also belongs to the many residents and fellows he has been fortunate to work with and receive stimulation from (“some of the best people ever!”), the great colleagues he has learned so much from, and the patients and their families. He is humbled that many of his trainees who have gone on to be world leaders in their specialties still look up to him and consider him a mentor. He is grateful for what they generously continue to teach him.

Finally, Dr. Riviello is so proud of his family. His wife, Susan B. Torrey, MD, a Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Global Health specialist, was the founding director of the Emergency Medicine Global Health program at TCH, and more recently the Division Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at NYU from 2011 to 2017. His sister has a PhD in nursing and has been the director of nursing programs and nurse practitioner PhD programs. His son, Peter, is a neuroradiologist at NYU, and his daughter, Elizabeth, works in the interface between the users and IT at WGBH in Boston. He is particularly grateful to his wife for so graciously supporting his academic career over their many years together.