H. Jean Khoury, an expert in hematologic malignancies at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, died May 22, after a year spent battling cancer. He was 50.
Khoury, whose work focused on chronic myeloid leukemia, acute leukemia, and myelodysplasticsyndrome, joined Winship in 2004 as director of the Leukemia Program, director of the Division of Hematology, and associate professor in the Emory School of Medicine. In 2009, he was promoted to professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, and was later named to the R. Randall Rollins Chair in Oncology.
Born in Beirut, Khoury came to Emory from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served on the faculty after completing a fellowship in hematology-oncology. He earned his medical degree from the Université Catholique de Louvain in Brussels and completed a residency in internal medicine at Memorial Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia.
I recruited Jean Khoury to Winship while serving as Chief of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology and Deputy Director of Winship. I first met him in December of 2003, when Jean was serving on the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis.
Ned Waller had come back from a visit to St. Louis bubbling with energy after meeting Jean, and he was absolutely convinced we had our future chief of hematology. So I actually attended a meeting of the American Society of Hematology for the first time since my fellowship, and was most impressed with Jean.
But how could anyone not be impressed? He had everything: a track record of exceptional clinical interventions, publications at a young age, impeccable clinical skills by all accounts, an incredibly humble and sincere approach, and the ability to look you in the eye and speak with such quiet certitude that I simply knew, perhaps even more than he did at the time, that I was in the presence of a wonderful human being who was naturally a real leader.
Jean would grow to be so much more, including a pioneer in molecular targeting of leukemias, with more than 140 publications. He led and completely revitalized the Division of Hematology and the Leukemia Program of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. His extraordinary skill and compassion as a physician, as a clinical investigator, and as a mentor led to many accolades and awards, including being named the inaugural holder of the Randall Rollins Chair, and election to the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. He served with great distinction in several major international leadership roles at the American Society of Bone Marrow Transplantation and the American Society of Hematology, and was Section Editor for Hematology for Cancer, a journal I edit, for many years.
“While we all knew Jean as an outstanding clinician who was beloved by his patients, and a true innovator in treatment, what he kept more quiet was his impact on colleagues and trainees as a mentor,” said Sagar Lonial, chair of Emory’s Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology and Winship’s chief medical officer. “The list of people from all over the world who have reached out to me speaking about his role in their career development is so impressive. He was an amazing teacher and colleague and that is what drew people to him.”
His mentorship skills were not limited to the medical field. He was was a Master with Taekwondo Kukkiwon certified 4th degree black belt, avid runner and bicyclist.
What you always want in a leader is someone who is not afraid to be wrong, to take risks. Being wrong disrupts the pattern, and Jean was very brave. He didn’t like business as usual, and that showed in the way he took about redeveloping the hematology division, the leukemia program, and his interactions with the transplant division, with faculty, and all across Winship.
“Jean was a transformative figure for our hematology division, taking the team to a new level in conducting cutting-edge research while providing compassionate patient care,” said Amelia Langston, medical director and section chief of the Winship Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program, and executive vice chair of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology. “He led and taught by example, and we continued to learn from him even in the face of his illness. His blend of curiosity, determination, caring, and humor will leave a lasting imprint on all of us.”
Khoury pioneered the development of personalized treatment for CML patients and better approaches to improve quality of life for survivors. His research focused on drug development in leukemia and MDS, genomic abnormalities in leukemia, development of cost-effective practice models, and outcome analysis of bone marrow transplant.
He conducted several leukemia and bone marrow transplant clinical trials, including pivotal trials that led to approval of drugs such as imatinib, dasatinib, and nilotinib. Khoury received the Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholarship, allowing establishment of the Hematological Disorders Tissue Bank at Emory, which now contains annotated germline and somatic samples from more than 800 patients with various hematological disorders.
Jean came to my Inauguration in Beirut, and many years before that, we attended his daughter Alya’s baptism in the ancient town of Byblos. Our families spent many holidays and vacations together over the years, and he was the consummate host, master of ceremonies, and organizer in chief, as he was at work.
Less than six weeks after he had proudly given our AUB, Emory, MD Anderson, Colorado, Dana Farber, and Wisconsin crowd a tour of the history and beauty of Beirut, culminating in a soirée in his apartment before coming to the celebration dinner at AUB’s Marquand House, I got a message from Jean that filled me with dread.
Poised and polite, my friend, the erudite and always calm and collected professor, asked me to contact him as soon as possible. As soon as I saw the message, I called him, and he and Angela told me he had esophageal cancer.
Jean gave it every shot, his best shot, like everything else he did in life, for 14 months. He died at home with his family by his side. He is survived by his wife, Angela Abboud-Khoury, and three children, Mikhail, Iman, and Alya.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to a new fund at Winship Cancer Institute that will memorialize the life and work of Khoury by supporting a fellowship program that was so meaningful to him. Please send contributions, marked in Memory of Dr. H. Jean Khoury, to Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Office of Gift Records, Emory University, 1762 Clifton Rd. NE, Suite 1400, Atlanta, GA 30322. You may also make a gift to the fund online.
A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, May 31, at 4:30 p.m. at Glenn Memorial Church at 1652 North Decatur Rd.
A.S. Turner & Sons
2773 North Decatur
Decatur, Georgia 30033
Friday, May 26, 6-8 p.m.
Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation
2500 Clairmont Road, NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30329
Saturday, May 27, from 10-11 a.m.
The author is president of the American University of Beirut.