John Caffey

Last revised by Antonio Rodrigues de Aguiar Neto on 6 Feb 2024

John Caffey (1895-1978) was an American pediatric radiologist renowned for his pioneering contributions to pediatric radiology. Dr Caffey was one of the founding members of the Society for Pediatric Radiology.

John Patrick Caffey was born in Castle Gate, Utah, on 30 March 1895. He graduated 1919 from the University of Michigan Medical School 1-3. Following his medical studies, Caffey attended an internship in internal medicine at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri 1-3.

Caffey volunteered for post World War I duty in Eastern Europe in 1920, working with the American Red Cross and the American Relief Administration (the Hoover Commission). His service, spanning three years, contributed to the aid and support of European refugees 1-3.

Returning to Michigan, Caffey completed a medical residency before attending an internship in pediatrics at Babies Hospital, an institution affiliated with Columbia University 1-3. Subsequently, Caffey initiated private pediatric practice and teaching responsibilities at Babies Hospital in 1925 1-3. In 1929, he was asked by Dr Herbert Wilcox, Chief of Pediatrics, to lead the radiology department, which Caffey, a pediatrician accepted with some reticence 1-3.

In the personal sphere, Caffey married Sidneth, but they never had any children 5

These aspects of Caffey's early life set the stage for the remarkable career that would follow, a journey characterized by groundbreaking contributions to pediatric radiology and the establishment of enduring legacies in the field 1-3.

John Caffey demonstrated his prolific contribution to pediatric radiology through numerous articles and papers 1-3. Notably, in 1945, he authored a seminal work describing "Infantile cortical hyperostosis," a condition later recognized as "Caffey disease" 1-3. Additionally, his 1946 publication addressing "Multiple fractures in the long bones of infants suffering from a chronic subdural hematoma" was instrumental in the field 1-4,6. Coined as "battered-child syndrome" by Kempe in 1962, the condition is now usually called "non-accidental injury", a term seemingly first used in the 1970s 1-4.

In 1945, Caffey made another contribution by publishing the first edition of "Pediatric X-Ray Diagnosis," laying the foundation for pediatric radiology 1-3. This publication has become a reference book within the specialty, undergoing several editions, with the seventh edition released in 1978 1-3

John Caffey was a founding member of the Society for Pediatric Radiology, which held its inaugural annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in 1958 1,2.  

These milestones underscore Caffey's enduring impact on pediatric radiology, solidifying his legacy as a luminary in the medical community 1-4.

In 1929, John Caffey assumed a leadership role in radiology at Babies Hospital – Columbia University, a position he held until his retirement in 1960 1,2. Following his retirement, Caffey embarked on a new chapter in 1963, embracing the role of emeritus associate radiologist and serving as a Visiting Professor of Radiology and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine 1. Simultaneously, he contributed to the medical landscape as a valued staff member at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh 1

Throughout his professional life, Caffey devoted himself to advancing pediatric radiology, leaving an indelible mark on the specialty 1-4. His dedication and contributions significantly influenced the field's trajectory, shaping it into what it is today 1-4

John Caffey died aged 83 years from complications secondary to prostate carcinoma on 2 September 1978, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1,2.

  • Honorary Diplomate of the American College of Radiology

    • almost uniquely achieved without formal training in radiology or examination 5

  • Mackenzie Davidson Medal of the British Institute of Radiology (1956)  1

  • Honorary counselor of the Society for Pediatric Radiology (1959) 1

  • Honorary Member of the European Society for Pediatric Radiology 1

  • Distinguished Service Award of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center (1962) 1

  • Outstanding Achievement Award of the University of Michigan (1965) 1

  • The John Howland Award of the American Pediatric Society (1965) 1-3

  • The Jacobi Award of the American Medical Association (1972) 1

  • Neuhauser lecture of the Society for Pediatric Radiology (1972) 5

  • Gold medal of the American College of Radiology (1975) 1,2

  • Authored the seminal textbook Pediatric X-Ray Diagnosis

  • Co-founded the Society for Pediatric Radiology

  • John Caffey Award for outstanding research awarded by the Society for Pediatric Radiology

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