Helen B. Taussig
|Helen Brooke Taussig|
|Born||May 24, 1898
|Died||May 20, 1986 (aged 87)
Chester County, Pennsylvania
|Alma mater||Johns Hopkins School of Medicine|
|Known for||Blalock–Taussig shunt|
Helen Brooke Taussig (May 24, 1898 – May 20, 1986) was an American cardiologist, working in Baltimore and Boston who founded the field of pediatric cardiology. Notably, she is credited with developing the concept for a procedure that would extend the lives of children born with Tetrology of Fallot (also known as blue baby syndrome). This concept was applied in practice as a procedure known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt. The procedure was developed by Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, who were Taussig's colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Early life and career
Helen Brooke Taussig was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 24, 1898 to Frank W. Taussig and Edith Thomas Guild, who had three other children. Her father was an economist at Harvard University, and her mother was one of the first students at Radcliffe College, a women's college. When Taussig was eleven years old her mother died after a two-year battle with tuberculosis; Helen also contracted the disease and was ill for several years, severely affecting her ability to do schoolwork. She also struggled with severe dyslexia through her early school years. She graduated from Cambridge School for Girls in 1917, then studied for two years at Radcliffe before earning a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1921. She later studied histology, bacteriology, and anatomy at both Harvard Medical School and Boston University, though neither school allowed her to earn a degree. As an anatomy student at Boston University in 1925, she published her first scientific paper on studies of ox heart muscles with Alexander Begg. She applied to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and was accepted as a full degree candidate. She completed her MD degree in 1927 at John Hopkins, where she then remained for one year as a cardiology fellow and for two years as a pediatrics intern. While at Hopkins, she received two Archibald Fellowships, spanning 1927-1930.
Dr. Taussig became deaf in the later part of her career. She learned to use lip-reading techniques and hearing aids to speak with her patients, and her fingers rather than a stethoscope to feel the rhythm of their heartbeats.
Career in medicine and retirement
Taussig began her career after her fellowship in cardiology with a stint as head of a rheumatic fever department. She then was hired by the pediatric department of Johns Hopkins, the Harriet Lane Home, as its chief, where she served from 1930 until 1963. While there, she did extensive work on anoxemia, called "blue baby syndrome", and discovered its cause as a partial blockage of the pulmonary artery either alone or combined with a hole between the ventricles of the infant's heart. She worked with surgeon Alfred Blalock to develop a surgery to correct the defect, resulting in what is now known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt. They first performed the corrective surgery on dogs but by 1946 began to perform the operation on human babies. That year, she became an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; she was promoted to full professor in 1959. In 1947, Taussig published her magnum opus, Congenital Malformations of the Heart, considered to be the genesis of pediatric cardiology as an independent field.
Taussig formally retired from Johns Hopkins in 1963, but continued to teach, give lectures, and lobby for various causes. In addition, she kept writing scientific papers (of the 129 total that Taussig wrote, 41 were after her retirement from Johns Hopkins). She advocated the use of animals in medical research and legalized abortion. Taussig also learned of the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide on newborns and testified before Congress on this matter after a 1960s trip to Germany where she worked with infants suffering from phocomelia (severe limb deformities). As a result of her efforts, thalidomide was banned in the United States and Europe. In 1977, Taussig moved to a retirement community in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Ever active, she continued making periodic trips to the University of Delaware for research work. When she died, she was working on research involving the genetic basis for certain congenital heart defects with avian hearts.
Legacy and honors
In 1947, Taussig was honored by France as Chevalier (knight) of the Legion d'Honneur. In 1953, she received an honorary medal from the American College of Chest Physicians. She was honored by Italy with the Feltrinelli Award in 1954 and was given the American Heart Association's award of merit three years later. An honorary fellow of the American College of Cardiology in 1960, Taussig was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and the following year became the first female president of the American Heart Association. Johns Hopkins University named the "Helen B. Taussig Children's Pediatric Cardiac Center" in her honor, and in 2005 the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine named one of its four colleges in her honor. The University of Gottingen named its cardiac clinic in honor of Taussig in 1965.
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- "College Advising Program". Retrieved 25 July 2012.
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- Helen Brooke Taussig
- Findagrave: Helen B. Taussig