The work with infectious diseases while in medical school propelled Di John to pursue a fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases through the University of Maryland. In addition to learning how to treat immune deficiency diseases, he was trained to diagnose and administer appropriate treatment to youngsters who have viral, bacterial or fungal infections.
He also was trained to work with diseases that were complicated or atypical, including: illnesses that are of unclear cause, have prolonged fever, or are recurrent; respiratory infections; bo
ne and joint infections; tuberculosis; acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS); hepatitis, and meningitis.
During his fellowship, Di John thought seriously about working in international medicine, possibly working for the World Health Organization. At one point, while working with indigenous Indians in Venezuela, he was part of an effort to develop a malaria vaccine.
As it turned out, particularly with the explosion of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, there was plenty for a new pediatric infectious diseases specialist to do in the United States.
He returned to his hometown of New York City, becoming highly regarded not only as a clinician but as an academic for nearly 20 years. His research, often dealing with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS, was published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, Journal of Pediatrics, and Clinical Pediatrics.
In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Di John said there were many instances of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which led to children dying young. “You would see heartbreaking things -- a child who once was speaking and walking would become unable to talk or walk and be in a wheelchair or completely bedridden before they died.”
Seeing that loss of milestones in a child, Di John said, took a toll on him and his team. “It was a very difficult thing to see, when you couldn’t really treat them,” he said.”There wasn’t much to offer those patients back then.”
Fortunately, Di John said, with the passage of time “there has been explosion of new drugs” to deal with HIV/AIDS. “Some years ago, I treated a girl in New York who had been infected at birth with HIV, who later had a baby of her own who was not infected. While now much more common, that was quite remarkable when I first saw it.”
In 2014, in pursuit of a new opportunity -- “there was talk then of the opening of a new medical school in Las Vegas” -- Di John moved to Nevada, becoming the section chief of pediatric Infectious diseases with the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine. In 2017 he took the same position with the new UNLV School of Medicine and later that year, when the need arose for new leadership, he became the program director for the UNLV Medicine Maternal Child Wellness Program, which is charged with caring for HIV infected and exposed infants, children and adolescents in southern Nevada.
“We’ve come a long way in treating pediatric infectious diseases,” said Dr. Di John, who enjoys teaching pediatric residents. “I’m excited to see what the future will bring to help even more children.”