ISPID - International Society for the Study and Prevention of Perinatal and Infant Death
ISPID - International Society for the Study and Prevention of Perinatal and Infant Death

International Society for the Study and Prevention of Perinatal and Infant Death

Distinguished Researcher Award 2001

During the IX. ESPID Conference in Istanbul, the Distinguished Researcher Award was given to Johannes Huber from Utrecht, Netherlands. The diploma was handed over by ESPID Chairman Torleiv Rognum, who summarized in his speech a few facts about the recipient of the prize.

Professor Johannes Huber has been with ESPID from its very beginning. As a child pathologist he has laid down an enormous amount of work, scientific activity and compassion in the fight against sudden infant death.

During and after the war Johannes Huber studied medicine, and from the early 50'es he was a general practitioner. In 1951 he and his wife went to Indonesia where he worked as a medical doctor. His interest in infant mortality was probably born in there. By simple but effective methods such as monthly weighing of infants, the infant mortality decreased from 20-25% to 4% during his attendance.

  • In the early 60'es Jonne Huber met John Emery who unfortunately died last year. They worked together on the topic of spina bifida.
  • In 1966 Huber and Emery set up The European Paediatric Pathology Club - which later developed into a society. At that time Jonne Huber worked as child pathologist at the Sofia Children's Hospital in Rotterdam.
  • In 1972 Huber became pathologist-in-chief at the hospital of sick children in Toronto, and professor of pathology at the University of Toronto. At that time he studied the immunology of the thymus and markers for duration of illness in the thymus. He was the tutor of Jim Barch, a PhD student at that time.
  • In 1978 Johannes Huber received the chair as Professor of Child Pathology at the University Medical Centre Utrecht, the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital.
  • In 1978-79 he spent 6 months in Sheffield working together with John Emery and Bob Carpenter. They started a multicentre study on sudden infant death in England. It was the Care Of Next Infant or CONI study trial. Professor Huber then suggested that one should include the weighing of the children. This proposal was based on his experience in Indonesia. His proposal has turned out to be of great importance. In 1994 Johannes Huber, John Emery and Bob Carpenter became deeply involved in the ECAS study. Huber took care of the Dutch branch of the study, and that resulted, among other things, in the thesis by Monique L'Hoir, including a study of bereaved parents.
  • Together with John Emery and Bob Carpenter, Johannes Huber has proposed a new way of classifying factors within the child and in the environment of the child that may cause death. Huber has proposed several factors that make out the total stress load that weigh upon the child at the moment of death. Exceeding a critical stress level is not compatible with the continuation of life. Such factors are final illness, disturbances in growth and development, congenital disturbances, microbiological stress, metabolic disorders, inadequacy of the organ systems etc.

Johannes Huber has combined what he calls a "pathology profile" with an "epidemiological profile" and has proposed three risk profiles for infants:

  • Profile 1 includes factors unfavourable for all infants: multiparity, young maternal age, insufficient growth, gender, etc.
  • Profile 2 includes the specific cot death factors: prone sleeping, bedding, etc.
  • Profile 3 includes what John Emery and Bob Carpenter has described as psychological factors of the care giver: anxiety, stress, tiredness, depression, chaotic caregiving, passivity, smoking, etc.

When these risk profiles are added, they make out the risk to die. This is a new way of approaching infant death. Time will show if this is the right way to proceed in the fight against cot death and all types of infant death.

Huber is not only a brilliant pathologist, but is also said to be an outstanding psychologist and a perfect general practitioner. He always tries to help parents who have lost their child, not only by doing his work as a pathologist but also by talking to parents. He is well known for giving room for emotions and observing whether the parents get stuck in the mourning.

Colleagues that are working together with Huber tell that his way of talking with parents prevents pathological mourning processes. Huber himself might not know this, but parents who spoke to him never needed a psychotherapist!

In many Western countries autopsy has been a matter of great dispute in recent years. Especially the removal of tissues and organs has been criticised. Thanks to Huber the issue has not caused crisis in Holland. Huber tried turning the debate into a positive direction. For instance he has rewritten the brochure about necropsy. Huber wonders why some parents in 2001 have the "animistic" conviction that the body, corps and all its parts, particularly heart and brain are the site of the spirit or the soul - and as such must be buried together with the whole. Huber seems to think that this attitude is a reflection of a current secular, entirely materialistic view of life. Thus some parents seem to cling to the remains of what once was the body of the beloved child. This situation may be the consequence of the sad fact that the hope of a life after death has vanished in many people's mind.

From informed source I have heard that professor Johannes Huber belongs to a non-conformist family. They were Huguenots that fled from France to Holland. During the war Huber's family was hiding jews. Johannes Huber was caught and put on a train to Germany. He pretended to be ill, was sent to hospital and succeeded to escape. In 1951 he refused to join the army and because of that he was put into prison for 6 months.

A person that knows Huber very well, characterises him as not only as a child pathologist and general practitioner, but a writer, a poet, a linguist, a Christian, a romanticist, a humorist, an outstanding jam maker. Furthermore he is a good Indonesian cook, sometimes a doubter and a gardener. He enjoys life!

It is a great honour and great pleasure on behalf of ESPID to hand over the Distinguished Researcher Award for the year 2001.


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