Whether he’s leading in his role as chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine or as physician-in-chief of Texas Children’s Hospital, Mark W. Kline, MD, is an innovator in the treatment of children with HIV/AIDS. As president of the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) at Texas Children’s Hospital, he and his research team have built a global infrastructure that provides cutting-edge care for some of the poorest children on the planet, and are accomplishing things that no other pediatric institution in the world is doing. ~ Stanford T. Shulman, MD
Dr. Shulman: What made you start BIPAI?
Dr. Kline: I’m a pediatric HIV/AIDS doctor by training. I was heavily involved in pediatric HIV clinical research in the early days of the epidemic. In the mid-1990s it became apparent that we had made advances in the prevention and treatment of pediatric HIV in the United States. However, a huge disparity existed in terms of access to life-saving care and treatment between the developed and developing worlds. I was invited to visit Romania, and there I saw with my own eyes the devastating impact HIV was having on children, and the lack of access to modern care and treatment. I felt like I had to do something. We started a [successful] program in Romania to train doctors and nurses in the care of children with HIV. From there we just replicated that experience across sub-Saharan Africa and built a whole network of centers to deliver care to children with HIV in very poor settings. Now we provide care to about 175,000 children with HIV, more than any other institution or organization in the world.
Dr. Shulman: What made you choose pediatrics as your profession, and especially working with infectious diseases?
Dr. Kline: As a student I worked with Ralph D. Feigin, MD, who was the chairman of pediatrics at Baylor, and I was very inspired by him as a person and by the work that he did. I loved internal medicine, but I found pediatrics every bit as intellectually stimulating and a whole lot more fun because you get to work with children and with their families.
Dr. Shulman: What’s been the greatest highlight in your career so far?
Dr. Kline: I would say my career really has had three phases. Phase one, I would say, was my work in HIV/AIDS clinical research, and I take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that I helped advance treatment for American children with HIV. It was quite an experience to witness the implementation of highly active antiretroviral therapy and to see children who were so very ill go back to school, to start playing again, to see the restoration of hope. That was a great time.The second phase of my career has been all of the global health work. Having an impact on behalf of hundreds of thousands of children who have very few options is certainly tremendously rewarding and satisfying. When you do that kind of work, you realize there are not 30 other physicians standing in line behind you if you aren’t, so you feel like you’re making a real difference.The third phase is the job I have now, as chairman and physician-in-chief. I’ve loved that because it gives me the opportunity to invest in and support programs that I feel passionately about and to influence the careers of young pediatricians in training. I’ve found that very rewarding as well.
Dr. Shulman: I know you mentioned Ralph Feigin, but who or what has been the greatest inspiration to you?
Dr. Kline: Dr. Feigin was an early influence in drawing me to the field of pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases. As an HIV/AIDS doctor, I would say my greatest inspiration has been the resilience of children and families in the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I’ve found it so inspiring that some of the poorest, least fortunate people on the planet manage not only to survive this horrible disease but also to thrive in the face of it. It’s been very inspiring to see Africa rebound with the rollout of antiretroviral treatment, and I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to witness that.
Dr. Shulman: What do you do in your free time?
Dr. Kline: I’m an outdoor person. I own a ranch, like any good, true Texan does. Whenever I get the chance I’m out on my ranch, taking care of the birds, deer and armadillos.