ESSEX COUNTY SURGEON REMEMBERED FOR KINDNESS, COMPASSION
When Montclair resident Chiara D’Agostino sat down for her first appointment in Dr. Jan Huston’s office at then-Mountainside Hospital in October 2014, she expected the usual doctor in the white lab coat to walk in. Instead, in came Huston, wearing a “cute leather jacket,” D’Agostino recalled.
It immediately didn’t feel like a standard doctor’s appointment. “I felt like we were going out for coffee,” D’Agostino said.
It was during that visit D’Agostino learned she had breast cancer, but Huston made receiving the life-changing news “a little less scary.”
“She spent over an hour explaining to me the ins and outs of my diagnosis. She drew everything on a piece of paper and wrote out everything so I could understand her technical terminology … so I could bring it home and look at it again in case I had questions,” D’Agostino recalled.
Huston gave D’Agostino her home phone number as well as her cell phone number.
Huston, also known as Dr. Jan Huston-Pryor, a surgeon who specialized in breast health at HackensackUMC Mountainside in Glen Ridge and Montclair, was fatally struck by a vehicle Tuesday while walking her dog near her home in Essex Fells.
The accident is under investigation. The driver remained at the scene and no charges had been filed as of Wednesday, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Huston was medical director of the Breast Center at Mountainside. She was the founder and director of Summit Breast Care, prior to joining the Mountainside Medical Group, according to a bio on the hospital’s website.
According to her LinkedIn profile, she was past medical director of the Connie Dwyer Breast Center at Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, and former surgeon at Millburn Surgical Associates.
In a statement, Mountainside chief executive officer John Fromhold called Huston “a beloved colleague and a strong advocate for women’s health throughout the community.”
“Among her many attributes, Jan was kind-hearted and enthusiastic, always bringing laughter and a smile to those around her," he said.
Some of Huston’s patients also remembered her for her personality and ability to connect with those she was treating.
D’Agostino, who is battling stage four breast cancer, chronicles her experiences in a blog called “Beauty through the Beast.” She has also written guest editorials for The Montclair Times. She has come across many doctors over the past several years. But Huston stands out for the ability she had to communicate the diagnosis clearly and compassionately, D’Agostino said.
“She was able to explain what was happening to me in a caring, clear way,” she added. “When going through something so shocking and life-threatening, to find that in a physician is monumental.”
Huston was one of the doctors who diagnosed Raquel Williams with breast cancer in September.
“[Dr. Huston] was kind and encouraging…made sure she spent some time talking with me assuring me I would be OK,” Williams said in an email.
Williams said she talked with Huston about her children, some of whom Williams taught at West Essex Regional High School.
“We had a beautiful connection. It's sad news but I believe she is with God and she will continue to be in our hearts and memories,” Williams stated.
D’Agostino said Huston saw her as woman, rather than just a sick patient.
“I feel sad for the women who needed her. She spread so much love,” she said. “I think focusing on what we did get from her is going to help me get through today.”
D’Agostino said even though Huston was not her primary doctor, she kept in contact with her and would still see her at Mountainside when she was there for appointments.
“She would stop and talk and see how I was doing. Which she didn’t have to do,” D’Agostino said.
Social media users have also commented on her passing, calling it a tragic loss and Huston an “incredible doctor.”
Essex Fells Mayor Edward P. Abbot posted a statement on that borough’s website, calling Huston one of “our dear friends and residents.”
She and her husband, Jonathan, had 12 children.
“Our entire community is in pain and beyond sorrow and despair over Jan’s passing. To say that Jan/Dr.Pryor/loving wife/adored mother/dear friend touched the lives of literally thousands and thousands of people is an understatement,” stated Abbot.
“Through her work, her vision, her and Jonathan’s definition of ‘family,’ and her commitment to making this world a better place by actions, not words, Jan’s legacy will forever be wonderfully remarkable and pristine.”