It never ceases to amaze me that seemingly ordinary events can give you extraordinary gifts or ideas. Recently, my mother and I were having Sunday lunch with some friends from church. We talked about the great weather we were having, about his love of sailing, as well as my recent trip to Madagascar. Over dessert, Peter asked me if I had ever heard of Dr. Leila Denmark. I confessed that I had not, and he gave me a few details with a promise to email me a link to the article he had seen in the The Telegraph.
That evening, I was checking my email when I saw one from my friend with a link to the story about Dr. Denmark. What I read was remarkable. She was born in 1888 to Elerbee and Alice Daughtry and grew up on a farm in Bulloch County, Georgia. She loved caring for the animals and seemed to have a knack for healing them. She went to college and subsequently taught high school for a while, when she decided to apply to medical school.
In 1924, she entered the Medical College of the University of Georgia – the only woman in her class. Graduating in 1928, she married soon after and moved with her husband to Atlanta. Initially, she volunteered at Grady Hospital, but when Egleston Hospital for Children (later Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta) opened, she became their first intern and also admitted their first patient.
After the birth of her daughter, she operated her private practice pediatric clinic from their home – which she did for the next seventy-one years, retiring at the age of 103! She is believed to have been the oldest practicing physician in the history of the United States.
However, longevity was not her only accomplishment. In addition to her practice, she continued to volunteer at the Central Presbyterian Baby Clinic, where she became involved in developing an immunization for pertussis, or whopping cough as it is commonly known. Her research in this helped to develop the vaccine that has been used for decades, saving thousands of children’s lives in the process. She received the Fisher Award for her research – an award that she truly cherished.
However, she did not stop at research and wrote a book, Every Child Should Have a Chance, which is now in its 16th edition. She continued to see patients with keeping the bare essentials necessary for practice, at her last office – in an old farmhouse, she saw patients without appointments and dispensed common sense advice to several generations of patients. Outside of medicine, she enjoyed golf, traveling, and sewing – making most of her own clothes. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 114 and buried next to her husband, Eustace. “Every child should have a chance. Do what you can to help.” Dr. Leila Denmark