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December 12, 2018


In Memoriam: Donald “DA” Armstrong, MD, FIDSA (1931-2018)

Donald Armstrong, MD, FIDSA, Past President of IDSA and mentor to many in the field, passed away on Nov. 27, 2018 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Dr. Armstrong received his medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1957. During his internship at the Cornell Division of Bellevue Hospital, he served a three-month rotation at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to which he returned as a chemotherapy fellow and resident following his residency at the University of Colorado Hospitals.

After two years at the National Institutes of Health in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases of NIAID working with Robert Huebner on animal tumor viruses, he moved on to the Virus Laboratory of the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania where he studied general virology with Werner and Gertrude Henle and continued his work with tumor viruses.

Dr. Armstrong returned to Memorial Sloan Kettering in 1965 as the first director of the microbiology laboratory and then as the first chief of the infectious diseases service in 1971, a role he served until his retirement. During his career he directed the fellowship program in clinical and laboratory infectious disease at Memorial Sloan Kettering since its inception in 1966 and became professor of medicine at Cornell University Medical College in 1976.

He served as editor or associate editor of numerous journals and was the founding editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Infectious Disease and, along with numerous fellows, published hundreds of papers and reviews.

Dr. Armstrong gave generously of his expertise and time, including working as one of the first physician volunteers at a community-based clinic in Chinatown, NY and at the Khao-I-Dang Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. He was a visiting professor on several occasions in Taiwan, where he helped establish the Infectious Disease Society, and in the People’s Republic of China, where he was appointed honoraryprofessor of medicine at the Chongqing University of Medical Sciences. Domestically, he also served on numerous boards and committees of scientific, medical, and community organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, the New York State and City Departments of Health, the Chinatown Health Clinic and the Community Research Initiative for AIDS.

His major research interests were in infections in the immunocompromised host. While his early work concentrated on viruses, he worked across the entire field of infectious diseases and established linkages between immunocompromised states and infections with bacteria, parasites and fungi. His work defined the management of infections in people with cancer, approaches still used in practice today.

As the AIDS epidemic took hold, Dr. Armstrong, at mid-career, became a national expert on the management of opportunistic infections in people with AIDS.  Whether in his work in cancer or AIDS, Dr. Armstrong was equally known for his expertise as he was for the compassion and dignity with which he treated patients.

The outpouring of sentiments following his passing is an indication of the profound impact he had on the field and those who worked with him. IDSA President, Cindy Sears, MD, FIDSA, who trained under Dr. Armstrong shared,

“His astute clinical and microbiology-based observations enabled him to write the papers that define our approach to management of the patient with cancer and fever and, in essence, provided the framework for our thinking over time about infection in all immunocompromised patients. With tenacity and an unfailing instinct for clinical truth, he moved cancer treatments into the modern age by minimizing the greatest risk of chemotherapy: infection. He then confronted the arrival of HIV/AIDS head-on in NYC and beyond when the illness emerged full force in 1981-1982. I was his fellow during this year and I cannot emphasize enough how he steered us forward with clinical rigor and astuteness, compassion and grace. It was many years before the medical literature caught up to what I learned from being with DA for that year. We all fondly remember the standards he set for us-and how probably each of us fell short at one point or another and received a rather fierce prod from this giant of a person-that instantly led to new action on our part. I considered him a 'renaissance man', fluent in Mandarin, a man of far-reaching knowledge, widely traveled, always sensible, devoted to family. I still see Don standing at his lectern where he read the medical literature early each day, positioned so anyone walking through the office saw him at work and a reminder to us all of his expectations.

Dr. Armstrong was a shining light in our field-breaking new ground in science and medicine, fostering the global reach of ID, teaching us endless lessons of medicine and life and a revered humanist.”

In addition to having served as President of IDSA in 1996, Dr. Armstrong was a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the New York Academy of Sciences. He was also a Master of the American College of Physicians.

Dr. Armstrong was predeceased by his wife of 62 years, Elizabeth (Lili), and is survived by his four children, Rebecca, Alison, Priscilla and Bradford, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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