January 30, 2023

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In Memoriam: Dr. April L. Palmer

Published on Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Medical Center extends its sympathy to the family of a former faculty member in appreciation for the loved one’s contributions to the academic health sciences center.

Dr. April L. Palmer

Portrait of Dr. April Palmer

Dr. April Lynne Palmer, professor and chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UMMC and a physician who garnered respect nationally and abroad for her expertise in medicine and research, died Jan. 26, 2023, after a sudden illness. She was 59.

Palmer joined the Medical Center faculty in 1996, becoming a division chief in 2000.

“This is so heartbreaking for our department,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, professor and Suzan Brown Thames Chair of Pediatrics. “She touched the lives of countless children, in addition to faculty, trainees and staff across the institution.”

Palmer graduated with distinction and honors from the University of Kansas Medical School. She completed her training in pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, where she was chief resident. She finished a pediatric infectious diseases fellowship at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Following her fellowship, April joined the faculty of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She was active in a number of national study groups, including the National Institutes of Health Collaborative Antiviral Study Group and its successor, the Congenital and Perinatal Infections Consortium, the CHIMES Congenital CMV-Hearing Loss Study Group, and several COVID-19 multicenter study groups.

She published on a variety of topics, including neonatal enterovirus infections, HIV infection in children and adolescents, congenital CMV infection, and COVID-19. Prominent among her roles while at the University of Mississippi was her service as president of the Faculty Senate, chair of the Mississippi Chapter of the AAP Pediatric Research in Office Settings Committee, and chair of the HIV Council. She also served on several committees in the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

Her contributions were recognized with multiple teaching and research awards from the Medical Center.

Palmer was certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases. She was a fellow of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Southern Society of Pediatric Research, American Society of Microbiology and the Louisiana/Mississippi Infectious Diseases Society.

Palmer’s research delved into antiviral medications and congenital viral infections. Her research was published in more than 30 peer-reviewed publications.

“The field of congenital infections was her specialty, and she was the site principal investigator in the Congenital and Perinatal Infections Rare Diseases Clinical Research Consortium,” said Dr. Charlotte Hobbs, professor of pediatric infectious diseases. “Her work contributed to a treatment for congenital cytomegalovirus disease that reduced hearing and developmental outcomes for patients with CMV, a leading cause of sensorineural hearing loss. She served as consultant to the Mississippi State Department of Health for childhood tuberculosis. She also was the site PI for the Ryan White/Pediatric HIV grant.”

Hobbs said Palmer’s leadership and work ethic were as strong as her skills as a physician and researcher.

“As a person, she was the steady head of our division, and we all greatly respected her clinical acumen,” Hobbs said. “She was humble, and she worked so hard. From a personal perspective, I appreciate that April supported me in my work, and the research we did over COVID together was fantastic. ... It is wonderful she got to see the development and successful implementation of a vaccine that she believed in strongly. Even up until last week, right before she became ill so precipitously, we were e-mailing back and forth about updates and work.”

Dr. Roberto Santos, professor of pediatric infectious diseases, said Palmer’s medical legacy will continue.

“Dr. Palmer will be missed, and she would be proud if we continued her legacy in research, leadership, infection prevention, community service and more importantly caring for the sick children in Mississippi,” he said.

Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele, medical director of infection prevention at UMMC, said the connection between Infection Prevention and Palmer was strong. “Dr. Palmer will hold a special place forever in our infection prevention family, and it will be hard for anyone to fill her shoes. She had an inspiring, energetic personality, and it has been an honor to work with her.”

A Renaissance woman, Palmer had many interests outside of medicine, among them Celtic dancing, music and running.

“She led a full and adventurous life outside of the tireless dedication that she gave to the children of Mississippi,” Taylor said. “In addition to her clinical work, she was an avid cyclist, marathon runner, hiker, and Celtic dancer. In recent years, she learned to play the fiddle and loved playing music with her husband, Robert Gray. They were married for almost 21 years.”

Palmer’s colleagues plan to honor her in the upcoming Run the Rainbow for Children’s 5K, 10K and half marathon with a way to donate online.

“She was a treasure to our institution and the children of our state,” said Selena Daniel, race director and associate director of administration and finance at Children’s of Mississippi. “She was planning to run in Run the Rainbow. Some of our faculty wanted to remember her through Run the Rainbow because of her dedication to Children’s of Mississippi and love of running.”

Services were held Saturday at Grace Chapel Presbyterian Church in Madison.