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Phil Robinson: Rheumatologist, colleague, huntsman spider rescuer


 

Helen Tanner remembers stealing glimpses of her husband, Philip (“Phil”) Robinson, MBChB, PhD, associate professor at the University of Queensland (Australia), catching and rehoming huge Huntsman spiders. Robinson made the extra effort because he didn’t want to hurt them; he wasn’t a big fan of the large spider with a potential leg span of 6 inches that’s commonly found in Australia, per the Australian Museum.

Robinson also relished taking his children, Eddie, 4, and Tommy, 7, on roller coaster rides, which they enjoyed, despite the experience typically giving him motion sickness, Tanner said.

Dr. Philip C. Robinson, of the University of Queensland School of Clinical Medicine in Herston, Queensland, Australia

Dr. Philip C. Robinson

“He would do anything to make the children happy,” she said. “His children meant the world to him.”

Robinson died Jan. 3 as a result of diffuse gastric adenocarcinoma, according to his wife, who added that it was a short, 2-week-long illness.

A leader of global effort to understand COVID-19 and rheumatic disease

Jinoos Yazdany, MD, MPH, chief of the division of rheumatology at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, described Robinson as “one of the hardest-working people I have ever known. ... [still] his deep love and dedication for his family and kids was always present.”

Robinson would wake up early, even on weekends, to lead international calls across multiple time zones, Yazdany said. “He was driven by a deep curiosity and an intense desire to generate scholarship that would help people with rheumatic diseases.”

Yazdany added that Robinson had a full research portfolio in gout and spondyloarthritis and a busy clinical practice.

She often caught glimpses of Robinson’s young children during Zoom calls. “He was also a talented baker and loved to bake with his kids, often posting pictures of his creations on social media,” Yazdany said.

A mutual colleague compiled some of Robinson’s baking successes. That includes “ ‘probably about to be locked down’ cookies” on July 17, 2021, and “Queensland lockdown cookies!!!” on July 2, 2021. Reuters reported on July 21, 2021, that Australia was witnessing an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases.

Robinson also worked his social media skills to rally support for the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance, according to an article published by his colleagues in The Rheumatologist. Yazdany collaborated with him in this effort.

Launched on March 12, 2020, the Global Rheumatology Alliance’s mission is to “collect, analyze, and disseminate information about COVID-19 and rheumatology to patients, physicians, and other relevant groups to improve the care of patients with rheumatic disease.” Robinson served as chair of governance and policy for the collaborative effort.

Inspired by a conversation on Twitter by Leonard Calabrese, DO, a rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, about an outcomes registry created by gastroenterologists specific to patients with inflammatory bowel disease, Robinson launched a discussion about a similar effort for rheumatology on Twitter, they write.

Along with colleagues and within a single Zoom conference call, Yazdany and Robinson had a plan to organize the registry, Robinson’s colleagues write.

Two projects of the Global Rheumatology Alliance are a health care provider–entered registry for providers to enter data about rheumatology patients with COVID-19 infections, and their COVID-19 Vax Survey, which is available in 12 languages, including English.

Yazdany had never met Robinson before she started working with him on the Global Rheumatology Alliance. They started chatting on Twitter, then moved to Zoom conference calls, and subsequently had weeks when they talked by phone and “emailed constantly,” she said.

“As I reflect on our initial interactions, I am struck by how brilliantly we got along and trusted each other,” Yazdany told this news organization. “We both liked to think big, believed in inclusive collaborations, and were committed to helping people with rheumatic diseases during a scary and uncertain time.”

Still, Yazdany noted that she and Phil brought different strengths to their collaborations. She brought her skills related to the technical aspects of research databases, while “Phil worked his magic in mobilizing friends and colleagues from all over the world,” she said. “He served as a wonderful leader, one whom people believed in and would follow.”

The two colleagues, who spent much of their collaborations over Zoom calls, email, and Slack, while living more than 7,000 miles apart, finally met in person at ACR Convergence 2022, which took place in Philadelphia that year. “It felt like the best kind of reunion with a dear friend,” Yazdany remembered.

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