Critical care expert Pérez Fontán named Chair of Pediatrics

By Jan Jarvis

Before pediatric critical care was recognized as a specialty, Dr. Julio Pérez Fontán already was treating some of the most critically ill children. He found the work especially satisfying because it allowed him to diagnose and treat physiological derangements in real time.

“You might say critical care is for people who like instant gratification,” Dr. Pérez Fontán said. “It is a gift that is rarely available in many other areas of medicine where you have to wait longer for things to happen.”

Dr. Julio Pérez Fontán

Hometown: Pontevedra, Spain
Research focus: The biomechanical interplay between lungs and airways as the respiratory system develops, focusing on the mechanisms by which disease-related alterations in this relationship can cause injury and inflammation.

Dr. Pérez Fontán, the newly named Chair of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, is driven to make things happen. But he also has an astute understanding that change takes time.

His immediate goal is to raise awareness of the pediatric services at UT Southwestern, which serves as a dominant force providing health care, not only in the region, but in the nation. It’s a challenge that UT Southwestern is prepared to handle.

“We are very well-positioned to be a leader and show others the way to provide better health care,” he said.

Dr. Pérez Fontán grew up in Spain, where he developed an interest in pediatrics early in life, led by family and role models he described as “very good pediatricians.” He received his medical training at Universidade de Santiago de Compostela and, after residency training in Barcelona, was a Fellow in Pediatric Critical Care and Pulmonary Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

While the fast pace of critical care medicine allowed him to see the physiological process in play, it offered other advantages he also found compelling.

“It satisfied my curiosity about human biology in a way that was not satisfied in other disciplines,” Dr. Pérez Fontán said.

At the same time, he was drawn to academia, and in 1985 he took a position as Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Yale University and Associate Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital. From there, he moved to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, serving as Chair of Pediatrics and Director of the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine. He also served as Director of Pediatric Intensive Care Services at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

In 2004, Pérez Fontán was recruited to UT Southwestern. He continues to serve as Associate Dean for Pediatric Services and Program Development, and as Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs for Children’s Medical Center Dallas. In 2011 he was appointed interim Chair of Pediatrics.

As permanent chair, Dr. Pérez Fontán will work closely with leaders of UT Southwestern and Children’s Medical Center to optimize clinical care delivery and program development, said Dr. Greg Fitz, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, and Dean of the Medical School.

“This is an important time in medicine, and Dr. Pérez Fontán will utilize these considerable skills to enable the continued growth and development of the Department and the School, and to enhance our partnership with Children’s Medical Center as a premier site for pediatric care,” Dr. Fitz said.

Dr. Pérez Fontán said he plans to focus on faculty recruitment and development, with the goal of making the pediatrics program one of the best in the country. He added that a benefit of working at UT Southwestern is the combination of clinical work and education.

“I really like being at an academic center and having daily contact with colleagues who teach me something every day,” he said. “As I grow older, I hope to continue learning from them every day – that’s absolutely invaluable.”

Dr. Fitz holds the Nadine and Tom Craddick Distinguished Chair in Medical Science, and the Atticus James Gill, M.D. Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Pérez Fontán holds the Robert L. Moore Chair in Pediatrics.