This year’s commencement speaker is the kind of person who changes lives—in fact she helps make life possible for thousands of people both here in the United States and around the world. Ellen Gould Chadwick ’75 is a doctor, teacher and researcher, and her relentless pursuit to solve the puzzle of HIV in children has become her life’s work.
After graduating from Denison cum laude with a degree in chemistry, Chadwick went on to the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where she quickly focused on two interests that would drive her career—children and infectious diseases.
As Chadwick began her work in Chicago in the early 1980s, HIV was just beginning to garner headlines, and it was thought only to occur in adults. She was working with immune-suppressed children undergoing cancer chemotherapy when a small but growing population of children with HIV captured her interest. Drawn to these children, who in many cases were newborns, Chadwick became one of the early warriors in the fight to save these infants.
“It was a very challenging time—we didn’t know what to expect with this disease, and it seemed like something new was discovered every day,” Chadwick said. “But my patients were always the driving force.”
Chadwick was at the forefront of the science that is now preventing HIV in infants and in achieving what was once thought to be impossible—a normal lifespan for these children.
“I now have patients I’ve known since infancy who have become too old for my practice,” she said. “When they turn 25 they have to move from my pediatric practice to one for adults. It’s wonderful yet bittersweet when the day comes for them to graduate from my care.”
As Chadwick’s career and practice have grown, so has her influence. Her HIV program has evolved from two people to a 38-member team. In addition to her practice, she continues to teach at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, where she’s excited to train the next generation of committed physicians.
Chadwick is also a member of the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trial (IMPAACT) research network. The issue that drives her international clinical research is the treatment of children who have both HIV and tuberculosis. Unfortunately, the medications for these illnesses interfere with each other. Now she collaborates with 10 clinics in Africa and Asia to help determine best practices for these stubborn cases.
Looking forward, Chadwick has no plans for slowing down. “I’m working for more effective HIV prevention and treatment programs for infants in developing nations,” she says. “They need access to the correct medications, but even more importantly, we need to build a supportive infrastructure for mothers and babies to remain on treatment. Crucial follow-up is being lost.”
Looking back over her career, Chadwick says, “I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.” She adds, “I was at the ground level of a disease that has impacted our society and the entire world. My work has been exciting, extremely rewarding, and I look forward to more progress being made.”