Dr. Donald Shields (Don) was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1941. His father was a coal miner in Utah, and was part of the broad war effort during World War II. The earliest inspiration to consider becoming a pediatric physician skilled in neurologic disorders took root during the first year of missionary service when he came across institutionalized children with severe intellectual and neurological disabilities. After graduating from the University of Utah in 1967 with a major in chemistry, he entered the College of Medicine and received his M.D. in 1971. He undertook pediatric training (1971-1973) at the Los Angeles County – University of Southern California before returning to University of Utah for training in Child Neurology. Dr. Patrick Bray had a powerful influence on Don’s professional aspirations to care for children and families in a setting where the satisfaction from clinical care could be enhanced by teaching and participation in research.
In 1976, Don joined the faculty of UCLA School of Medicine, in the Division of Pediatric Neurology (founded by John Menkes), to work with Dr. Richard Schain. Only a year into his career, Dr. Schain decided to pursue a different life, and Don Shields assumed the role of Acting Chief of the Division and became the Chief of Pediatric Neurology in 1980. The 80’s proved to be a remarkable period for pediatric neurology, especially pediatric epilepsy at UCLA.
Don quickly strengthened the program by adding two important faculty members: Dr. Alan Shewmon, a mathematician, concert pianist, and neurophysiologist who understood pediatric EEGs with an intuitive understanding that the tracings from developing brains needed a special approach to interpretation, and Dr. Harry Chugani, who gave added impetus to the remarkable novel developments underway with PET imaging, having studied mapping of regional glucose metabolism in the laboratories of Louis Sokoloff at the NIH. Dr. Chugani began the PET study of cortical dysplasia in infants and was able to discern significant lesions that were difficult to delineate with the 0.3 Tesla MRI available at that time.
The remarkable dynamics of interaction of those three individuals, and their partnership with Dr. Warwick Peacock, a recently arrived pediatric neurosurgeon from South Africa, resulted in the surgical treatment of infantile spasms. In those early years, Don and the team faced significant skepticism about the wisdom and ethics of those procedures. Soon, some of his most vocal critics began to adopt that approach, and gradually it has emerged as the standard at leading epilepsy centers throughout the world.
Don’s other research interests involved clinical trials of anticonvulsant medications. Of the many trials he participated in, his collaboration with Dr. Roy Elterman in a compassionate study of vigabatrin for refractory infantile spasms was, perhaps, the most impactful since they resulted in the approval of vigabatrin for infantile spasms by the FDA.
Don had a powerful influence on his trainees and was an outstanding role model for combining empathy and compassion with clinical diagnostic skills. In 1990, he was promoted to full professorship and in 1999 appointed to the Rubin Brown Distinguished Chair. His commitment to teaching resulted in his receiving the Robert C. Neerhout Faculty Teaching Award in the Department of Pediatrics, UCLA, for
two consecutive years (1976-77; 1977-78). He also twice received the “Golden Hammer” teaching award of the Department of Neurology, in 1993 and again in 2009. The Sherman Mellinkoff Faculty Award recognizing dedication to the art of medicine and cultivation of the finest doctor-patient relationships is among the highest honors at UCLA; fittingly, Don was given this award in 2010.
Don was the principal investigator of the first pediatric Epilepsy Surgery Program Project, and has served in NIH review panels. He also participated in NIH workshops on pediatric epilepsy surgery and on pediatric anticonvulsant drug trials. He was elected to membership in the American Pediatric Society. He has held numerous positions in both the Child Neurology Society and the American Epilepsy Society. In 1996, he received the American Epilepsy Society’s Service Award. In addition to service on numerous committees, Don also served on the CNS Board of Directors as Councillor for the West from 1994 to 1996.
One of the most important chapters in Don’s professional life has been the extraordinary leadership he provided to the Child Neurology Foundation (CNF). He assumed leadership of the CNF at a challenging time and demonstrated exceptional leadership skills in challenging the board to undertake a self-study of its goals and processes, and gently putting in place systems and processes that have produced excellent results. To quote Ms. Amy Miller, the present Executive Director: “Today, CNF is more successful than it has ever been in its 16 years. This success is directly correlated to Don’s Presidency and the leadership action he took, with courage, with grace, and yes – with humility.” This would come as no surprise to Don Shields’ trainees, including the one who assumed leadership of the division he built in 2005.
Subsequent to his retirement, Don enjoys being a globetrotter with his wife, Ginny, and his family time with his daughter, sons and grandchildren. Moreover, he joined a country club and golfs. Current trainees at UCLA benefit from and greatly appreciate the time he spends with them in the clinic as a professor emeritus.
In 2015, the University of Utah School of Medicine recognized Don Shields with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. It is unfortunate that his mentor and inspiration at the University of Utah, Dr. Patrick Bray passed away in 2013. Don Shields has truly “done him proud.”
One of the most important chapters in Don’s professional life has been the extraordinary leadership he provided to the Child Neurology Foundation (CNF). He assumed leadership of the CNF at a challenging time and demonstrated exceptional leadership skills in challenging the board to undertake a self-study of its goals and processes, and gently putting in place systems and processes that have produced excellent results.