Women's History Month Spotlight: Dr. Helen Taussig

Women's History Month Spotlight: Dr. Helen Taussig

(KFVS) - March is Women's History Month, and in the spotlight for March 9, 2016 is Dr. Helen Taussig (1898 - 1986) the founder of the field of pediatric cardiology.

Dr. Taussig earned international fame for developing the concept behind what's known as the ''blue baby'' operation, eventually saving countless lives of children born with heart defects.

Taussig suffered from both dyslexia, but that didn't slow down her education. She earned a B.A. degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1921, and studied medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston University and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

She stayed at Johns Hopkins Hospital for most of her career, first as a fellow in cardiology, then finishing a two-year pediatrics internship. In 1930, Dr. Taussig was appointed the head of the Children's Heart Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and worked there until she retired in 1963.

By the time she graduated medical school, Taussig was deaf, and relied on lip-reading hearing aids. Because she couldn't hear her patient's heartbeats, she developed an innovative method to explore the beat of the human heart by using her touch instead.

That's how Dr. Taussig traced the problem that caused some babies skin to turn blue. By touch, she found common heartbeat patterns in infants suffering from a lack of oxygenated blood circulating from the lungs to the heart. She traced the problem to a malformation in the heart, and developed a shunt with surgeon Alfred Blalock.

The Blalock-Taussig shunt first successfully implanted in a baby girl in November of 1944, and the procedure was instantly dubbed a "miracle surgery" in national magazines.

Once she retired, Taussig continued doing research, and learned of the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide on newborns. She testified before Congress in 1967 about the birth defects caused by the drug, often prescribed to pregnant women for nausea. As a result of her efforts, thalidomide was banned in the United States and Europe.

President Lyndon Johnson awarded Dr. Taussig the Medal of Freedom in 1964.

Taussig died in an car crash near her home in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania May, 20th 1986, while driving several of her friends to vote at a local election. She was 87 years old.

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