The 1950s Medicine and Health: Headline Makers

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The 1950s Medicine and Health: Headline Makers

Thomas A. Dooley
John Franklin Enders
John H. Gibbon Jr.
Albert B. Sabin
Jonas E. Salk
Helen B. Taussig

Thomas A. Dooley (1927–1961) During his service as a U.S. Navy doctor, Thomas A. Dooley treated North Vietnamese refugees. He was deeply affected by their poverty and poor health. After completing military service, he returned to Southeast Asia where he dedicated himself to providing countless individuals with the first medical treatment they ever had received. Dooley was one of the founders of Medico, a nonprofit organization created to help bring medical care to poor regions in Asia, Africa, and South America. Sadly, he died of cancer at age thirty-four.

John Franklin Enders (1897–1985) During the late 1940s and 1950s, John Franklin Enders made important contributions to the fight against several infectious diseases. His research, in which he and his colleagues successfully isolated poliovirus, the enterovirus that causes human poliomyelitis (polio), made possible mass production of the vaccine developed by Jonas Salk (1914–1995). Enders' studies resulted in a reduction of the costs incurred by hospitals in isolating and identifying viruses. Enders also worked to isolate the measles virus and to develop a live-virus measles vaccine.

John H. Gibbon Jr. (1903–1973) In the 1930s, while observing an operation at Massachusetts General Hospital, John H. Gibbon Jr. watched a patient undergoing heart-lung surgery suffocate on his own blood. This experience inspired him to develop an artificial heart-lung device that would allow surgeons to perform delicate procedures that required stopping the heart from beating. The result of Gibbon's research was first used on a human being in 1953, during surgery to close a large opening in the heart wall of an eighteen-year-old female. His heart-lung machine subsequently helped pave the way for modern open-heart surgery.

Albert B. Sabin (1906–1993) By the mid-1950s, Americans by the millions were being injected with the Salk vaccine to protect themselves against contracting human poliomyelitis, better known as polio. However, this vaccine was limited in its effectiveness. Albert B. Sabin, who like Jonas Salk was a virologist (a specialist in virus-related diseases), had been researching the poliovirus since 1935. In the mid-1950s, he developed the ultimate polio vaccine. It was taken orally (rather than injected into the bloodstream), and it provided extended immunity from this dreaded disease.

Jonas E. Salk (1914–1995) In the mid-1950s, most every schoolchild knew the name of Jonas E. Salk. That was because Salk had developed the first successful vaccine against polio. Starting in 1955, American children lined up in school to be given the vaccine that would safeguard them against the disease. Even though the Salk vaccine was not 100 percent effective, and was completely replaced within a decade, Americans in the mid-1950s viewed Salk as a hero in the battle against polio.

Helen B. Taussig (1898–1986) Helen B. Taussig was a pioneer in research involving "blue-baby syndrome," a condition in which the narrowness or obstruction of the passages between the lungs and the heart turns the skin of babies blue. In the 1940s, she began exploring ways in which to increase blood flow to the lungs. While doing so, she enlisted the aid of Alfred Blalock, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University. Their experiments were successful, but only Blalock earned acclaim. Taussig kept working in relative anonymity for the rest of her career. Historians note that she was understandably bitter at being denied the recognition her male colleague received.

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The 1950s Medicine and Health: Headline Makers