dr. Mark Kline joined Children’s Hospital New Orleans for over a year following his abrupt departure from two elite Houston medical facilities and decades of service to its pediatric HIV/AIDS program, making him an internationally respected figure.
He resigned in February 2020 as chief physician of Texas Children’s Hospital and chairman of the division of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, after nearly 30 years with both. He also stepped down as chairman of the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative, a project he began more than 20 years ago after witnessing the lack of basic care for dying children at an AIDS clinic in Constanta, Romania.
The 64-year-old said the career break did him good.
“Call it a late midlife crisis if you will, but I did some soul-searching and a little self-reflection and I thought, you know, after 30 years, what a great run…I felt like I had most of it of what I had hoped to achieve,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “I also realized that I had swallowed up a lot of my personal life. You know, I’d gone on for years without ever taking a day off.’
Kline’s comments marked the first time he’s spoken publicly about last year’s departure, which drew national attention in the medical world.
He spent much of the past year among owls, coyotes and wild boars at his 1,300-acre wildlife sanctuary in Oakwood — about a three-hour drive north of Texas Medical Center. He said the break allowed him to sit at the bedside of his ailing father, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, in the last few weeks of his life.
Kline started about a month ago as the chief physician of Children’s Hospital New Orleans, overseeing the academic pediatric medical programs at LSU Health New Orleans and Tulane University School of Medicine. According to the hospital, it is the only pediatric institution in the state to have dual academic programs for children under one roof.
“I’ve enjoyed my time (in Houston), but I’m so excited to be where I am now,” he said. “This has been very healthy for me to do, and I feel very energized and empowered by the opportunity I have here in New Orleans. And I think I’m in the right place at the right time for me.”
Children’s Hospital New Orleans is about a quarter the size of Texas Children’s, but offers the opportunity to expand a pediatrics program and expand the research footprint at two medical schools.
“Dr. Kline’s visionary ability to create a positive environment for academics and research complements the generational shift already happening at Children’s Hospital New Orleans,” said Dr. George Bisset, Chief Medical Officer at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, in a statement. statement. “His passion and unparalleled expertise will be transformative for the health outcomes of children in our state.”
Kline expects to leverage the expertise he gained in setting up the AIDS initiative, known as BIPAI. Since 1999, the program has dramatically scaled up pediatric HIV/AIDS care in Romania and Africa at a time when few organizations mentioned children.
The program has saved thousands of pediatric AIDS victims to the brink of death, prevented HIV from spreading to AIDS in many more cases, and trained more than 90,000 health workers to continue the work. Now the world’s largest provider of HIV/AIDS care and treatment, the project earned him a Texas Children’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Kline, who is no longer involved with the program, said he plans to step down when it becomes self-sufficient. Several local leaders in African countries like Botswana and Swaziland are in control, he said.
“That should be the goal of any international organization starting this kind of work,” he said. “Is that eventually, the work is handed over to the local leadership.”
Kline’s departure from Texas Children’s came two years after the abrupt departure of another nationally recognized figure: Dr. Charles Fraser, an elite pediatric cardiac surgeon widely regarded as an heir to the legendary Houston cardiac surgeons Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley. Fraser later joined Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin.
dr. Catherine M. Gordon begins Oct. 1 as the new chief physician of Texas Children’s and chairman of Baylor’s division of pediatrics, the hospital announced in April. She is currently chief of adolescent/young adult medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Texas Children’s declined to comment on Kline’s departure.