Remembering Dr. John Kennell

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It is with sadness that we note the passing of John H. Kennell, M.D. He was professor emeritus of pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

As a doctor and educator, he had immeasurable influence on an untold number of children, parents, families, medical students, therapists and physicians. He helped revolutionize the way families – and especially mothers and babies – are treated during maternity.

He died peacefully on Aug. 27, 2013 at the age of  91.

While Kennell maintained an active pediatric practice, he was perhaps best known for groundbreaking research on mothers and babies, which he conducted with his long-time collaborator Dr. Marshall H. Klaus.

As co-authors of Maternal Infant Bonding in 1976, research by Kennell and Klaus drew a connection between parental bonding and a baby’s survival. “The value of skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby during the first 90 minutes after birth was particularly noted, as were the benefits of maintaining a ‘baby friendly’ environment during the first hours and days,” according to a 2005 article in the journal Child Analysis.

The conclusion –“that parents should have close contact with a newborn within minutes of birth in order to form a lasting attachment” (quoted from a Plain Dealer obituary)  ultimately changed the maternity experience for parents and babies in hospitals around the world.

Kennell also advocated for more than 20 years to create the “rooming in” policies that now allow parents to stay with their ill children during extended hospital stays.

While Kennell was not directly involved with Hanna Perkins, he was well-known here and his influence was keenly felt.

His approach to working with babies, children and families was much aligned with that of Hanna Perkins. And anyone who undertook psychoanalytic training here over the years was likely to feel as if they knew him through his book on parental infant bonding, says Joanne Naegele, M.A., L.P.C.C., a member of the Hanna Perkins training faculty.

In 2005, Kennell was honored with the Eleanor M. Hosley Memorial Award, given by Hanna Perkins to select individuals for their “kind, effective consideration of the needs, feelings and rights of children,” according to the Child Analysis article, which concluded, “…he has remained devoted to listening to and learning from the mothers, the fathers, and the babies – including their nonverbal messages – with whom he has worked.”

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  1. Linda Radakovich  March 9, 2016

    I am so saddened to learn that our beloved Dr. Kennell had passed away. He was my son’s birth Dr. At Rainbow Babies And Children’s and is responsible for keeping my son who has Downs Syndrome alive after a tracheostomy. Andy is now a healthy 32 year old and we often talk about our Dr. Kennell who was our angel. I will never forget his kindness, compassion and love he showed our family. Please relay this to his family that someone in North Carolina loved and will always remember Dr. Kennell. Fondly, Linda Radakovich


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