The History of NFID (Part I)

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) was founded in 1973 and is dedicated to educating the public and healthcare professionals about the causes, prevention, and treatment of infectious diseases across the lifespan. The following history of NFID was shared by Richard J. Duma, MD, PhD upon accepting the 2015 John P. Utz Leadership Award at the NFID Awards Gala on May 5, 2015 in Bethesda, MD.

Good evening. First, I want to thank the NFID Board of Directors for presenting me with the prestigious John P. Utz Leadership Award. I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to me, and how grateful I am to receive it. Dr. Utz was my hero and a close friend. Secondly, I want to thank my wife Mary Alyce and my son Scott, who are both here with me tonight, for inspiring me and for sacrificing so much of their time so that I could complete all the work I needed to do.

In 1967, after completing my fellowship in infectious diseases with Dr. Morton Swartz (another hero of mine) at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Utz invited me to join the infectious disease faculty at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). Over the years, Jack was among the finest gentlemen, scholars, and compassionate physicians I have ever known. I loved working for him–he was inspirational and he never pushed or harassed. He gave everyone an opportunity to show what they could do. I never heard him say a harsh word to anyone. He was liked by all. He was always quiet and polite, but his staff knew he expected their best, and they gave it to him. He had a special charismatic way of encouraging productivity. It was clear he was a born leader.

For the record, I’d like to tell you about some of NFID’s early history…which included several things of which I’m very proud. It was in 1973, or over 40 years ago, that NFID was officially founded. However, it was in 1972 that Jack Utz and I were in his office early one morning, sipping coffee, talking about the Washington Redskins and moaning about how research grant monies were drying up. I complained to Jack that too many wealthy organizations were devoted to helping fund cancer, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, and many other such problems; but no one seemed to pay any attention to infectious diseases. Jack also wondered why. I said, “I don’t think the public or others know anything about, or care anything about, infectious diseases. When someone asks me what I do for a living, and I say, ‘I’m an infectious disease specialist,’ they invariably seem to think ‘you must be one of those gonorrhea doctors,’ and that seems to be all they seem to know.”

Jack’s face lit up and he asked, “Do you think we could create an infectious disease organization to help support and fund infectious disease research?” “Why not?” I said. And thus, we were off. Jack took his own money and went straight to his lawyer, Charley Reed of Richmond, VA, who told us what we needed to do and how to do it. In no time, Jack selected and invited 6 to 7 MCV faculty members to serve as founders and directors. Jack was elected President (our first); I was elected Vice-President, and Dr. Jean Shadomy was elected Secretary-Treasurer. We decided right away that the name of the organization should be the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. (Some people have since asked how it could be “for” infectious diseases, when it ought to be “against! They might have been right, but it didn’t seem to stop us.)

Duma & FamilyNext, we needed a logo. I found a local commercial artist; but he didn’t know what we needed or wanted. I agonized about what a good logo would look like, something that would express what and who we were; but I got nowhere. My then 11 year old son, who’s seated at my table now, would unwittingly solve my problem. He had a cat who had just delivered five kittens, none of whom had yet been named. Since I was familiar with the work of Watson and Crick, I promptly named them empirically: Adenine, Thymidine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Uracil. From this my son quickly learned some biology; my wife was happy; and I had time to keep looking for that perfect logo. The next day, as my son watched me while I was still agonizing, he said, “Dad, why don’t you create a logo like this DNA helix in my book.” “Hmmm, I thought. Why not ?” I brought the idea to the commercial artist, he drew it up, and there was our logo, the Double Helix.

The story continues in the next blog post

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