By way of introduction, Dr. Norman Noe describes himself as a "country boy who made good." Born and raised in Morristown, Tennessee, Noe has made the Volunteer State home for most of his 62 years (he served a fellowship in London in 1977). A father of three and grandfather of five, Noe attended the University of Tennessee as an undergrad, then earned his M.D. at UT Memphis in 1969. The chief of urology at St. Jude since 1994, Noe's specialty is unique in that his focus is on an area of children's health we tend to associate more with adults.
"At the time I went through my medical training," explains Noe, "there was no such thing as pediatric urology. Le Bonheur was one of the few free-standing children's hospitals in the country. Memphis represented a wonderful practice opportunity to build something that had never been."
Just how -- and why -- did Noe concentrate on such fallow ground? "Pediatric cases were always the most demanding," says Noe. "As opposed to adult procedures, when I repair a blockage in a child or rebuild genitalia, those children live with those results for 75 or 80 years.
"The genital/urinary system has the highest incidence of congenital abnormalities of any system in the body. As a result of this complexity -- and because we as human beings are imperfect -- [the abnormalities] can affect the psycho-social development of a child. Certain penile deformities can preclude a man from even having intercourse, much less having children. Other devastating anomalies occur with kidneys and bladders. The most rewarding aspect of what I do is watching these children grow up. I'm at a stage in my career when children I've repaired are now [adults] and trusting me with their children. That's a real high."
Noe sees the mapping of the human genome as a step in a direction that will allow a clearer picture for potential abnormalities before a child is even born. "The thing we need now more than anything," he says, "is a better genetic understanding of the disease process and how it can be modified. It would be great to have tests where we could prevent these problems from occurring by altering genetic codes and messenger mechanisms. I won't see it, but my children and grandchildren will benefit."
As for his ties to Tennessee -- and, for almost 40 years now, to Memphis -- Noe has no regrets. "One of the reasons that I stayed here," he explains, "is the quality of the medical center. The university people might be jealous of the private-practice people, or vice versa. But the pediatric community would rally together for the welfare of the patients, the children. All differences were put aside and we rallied around the child, no matter our designation."