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2018 Breathing for Life Award to Honor Past Foundation Chair

Jim Donohue Recognized for Philanthropy and Contributions 

Jim Donohue MD

James F. Donohue, MD

James F. Donohue, MD, will receive the 2018 Breathing for Life Award—the highest honor given to an ATS member for philanthropy—during the Tenth Annual ATS Foundation Research Program Benefit on Saturday, May 19. The benefit will follow the Opening Ceremony at ATS 2018, San Diego, California. Dr. Donohue chaired the ATS Foundation from 2010 to 2016. During that time, contributions to the Research Program nearly tripled to $1 million, and the number of research grants the Foundation awards each year doubled. Dr. Donohue, who is division director emeritus of pulmonary diseases and critical care medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is also being honored for his mentorship and scientific accomplishments.

Dr. Donohue is known as a master clinician, and at an age when others have retired or reduced their clinical work, he still has a busy outpatient service and is involved in the inpatient service. “Jim is still very engaged,” says Patricia Rivera, MD, director of UNC Chapel Hill’s Lung Cancer Screening Clinic and Pulmonary Function and Bronchoscopy Laboratory, adding that she still consults him on complex cases.

Shannon Carson, MD, the current division director at UNC Chapel Hill, adds, “Jim has a unique ability to make anyone feel like he knows them, appreciates them, and is happy to be talking to them. Can you imagine how a patient responds to that? His patients are completely devoted to him.”

Larry Johnson, MD, director of pulmonary and critical care medicine at University of Arkansas for medical sciences, says that having Dr. Donohue as his clinic mentor in his first year of an internal medicine residency at UNC Chapel Hill was part of the reason he decided to join the university’s fellowship program in pulmonology and critical care. “A lot of doctors wanted Jim as their physician. The opportunity to work with an outstanding clinician like Jim is very attractive,” he says.

Dr. Donohue’s interest in his patients led him to become a leader in clinical trials for innovative products that are now among the most commonly used inhaled therapies for COPD and asthma. He often presented trial findings to FDA committees charged with approving new medications. “I spoke from the physician’s perspective,” he says. “My No. 1 priority is, what matters is the patient in front of me who can’t breathe.”

He continues his interest in new therapies by monitoring patient safety in new clinical trials. He is the author of more than a hundred peer-reviewed articles in the most important journals in pulmonology and has served as a reviewer of respiratory articles for the New England Journal of Medicine and the Archives of Internal Medicine. Dr. Donohue played a major role in building the pulmonary diseases and critical care division at UNC Chapel Hill. He was the second physician to join the division in 1976 and served as division chief from 2002-11. Today, the division has 32 faculty members and 11 fellows.

“Jim was supportive of me and all the faculty in developing clinical programs and in expanding existing ones,” Dr. Rivera says, noting that the pulmonary hypertension and interventional pulmonology programs started under his leadership. “He was a thoughtful leader who played to people’s strengths.”

Dr. Donohue is also a remarkable teacher. Dr. Carson still remembers second-year medical school lectures that he gave on lung physiology, and Dr. Johnson recalls his calmness in handling seriously ill patients, wealth of knowledge, and willingness to provide clinical advice about a case. “Jim was always listening carefully and willing to offer input,” he says.

Equally important, Dr. Johnson notes, his mentor taught him that you have to learn to do the things that make you happy as a physician. “He has a love of the work, and when you’re with him, you feel that,” Dr. Johnson says, noting that Dr. Donohue also has a sense of humor about himself. “Jim truly cares about people,” Dr. Rivera adds. “With all that he has achieved, he has maintained tremendous humility and kindness and respect for others. It says a lot about him as a human being, and not just as a great clinician and researcher.”

Learn more about the Benefit and Award.