Born in Buffalo, New York, Dr. Donald Pinkel joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 and was sent to Cornell University as a pre-med student officer candidate before graduating from the University at Buffalo School of Medicine in 1951. While there, he developed an interest in hematology and served as a pediatric resident at the Buffalo Children’s Hospital where he started a clinic for hematology-oncology patients.
Soon after, Dr. Pinkel was recalled to active service during the Korean War and served as a pediatrician when he contracted paralytic poliomyelitis. During his rehabilitation, he worked with Dr. Sydney Farber at Boston Children’s Jimmy Fund Clinic and was recruited to develop pediatric service at Roswell Park Cancer Center in Bu alo. There, he established research and clinical programs and was an early member of the national Acute Leukemia Group B. In 1961, Dr. Pinkel was recruited to Memphis while St. Jude was under construction.
The facility’s principal focus was research of management of childhood malignancies and blood disorders and their causation, and significant research resulted in first time discontinuation of treatment and a long-term cure. Over the next 11 years, the institution became a world leader in pediatric hematology and oncology, which Dr. Pinkel attributes to the staff, patients and families at St. Jude. Beyond their medical accomplishments, Dr. Pinkel and Danny Thomas pioneered racial integration of staff and patients in Memphis through their work at St. Jude.
For his decades of service, Dr. Pinkel was awarded the Lasker Award and the Kettering GM Medal for his contributions to pediatric research. After leaving St. Jude in 1974, Dr. Pinkel went on to develop pediatric oncology programs at hospitals across the country. He retired to California in 2001 where he taught many years in the Biology Department of Cal Poly State University and continues to keep contact with many students who went on to forge successful careers in medicine.
A respected physician, dedicated scientist and life-long educator, Dr. Donald Pinkel is a 2017 inductee of the Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame.