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Dr Mary Ellen "Mel" Avery
Birth: May 6, 1927
Camden
Camden County
New Jersey, USA
Death: Dec. 4, 2011
West Orange
Essex County
New Jersey, USA

Medical Pioneer. A pediatrician, her recognition that a deficiency of pulmonary surfactant was the cause of what was then called hyaline membrane disease in premature infants has saved countless lives. The child of an upper middle class family, she was raised in the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia and developed an interest in medicine via her association with a pediatrician neighbor. Following her graduation with honors from Wheaton College of Norton, Massachusetts, she attended the Johns Hopkins Medical School from whence she earned her M.D. in 1952. Development of tuberculosis shortly after graduation delayed her training but sparked a lifelong interest in pulmonology. Following her recovery Dr. Avery returned to Hopkins for internship and residency then in 1957 accepted a faculty position at Harvard; at that time upwards of 15,000 premature babies died every year of what was then known as hyaline membrane disease after the membranes found in the lungs at autopsy but is now called respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Noting that while full term babies can exhale without difficulty some premature infants cannot she postulated that the foamy mixture of fats and proteins seen around the mouths of patients with pulmonary edema, a substance previously identified as pulmonary surfactant in the course of poison gas research, is somehow necessary for normal lung function. Further study confirmed Dr. Avery's findings though it remained for Dr. Tetsuro Fujiwara of Japan to develop a viable treatment in the form of a surfactant made from the lungs of cattle. In 1960 Dr. Avery became a professor at Johns Hopkins then moved on to the chair of Pediatrics at Montreal's McGill University in the mid 1960s; in 1974 she became the first female department head at Harvard and was simultaneously named Physician-in-Chief of Children's Hospital Boston. After leaving Children's Hospital in 1985 she was elected president of the American Pediatric Society (APS) in 1990 and in 1991 was presented the National Medal of Science by President Bush. Over the years she authored numerous books and papers including the standard text "The Lung and Its Disorders in the Newborn Infant", became president of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003, and in 2005 received the John Howland Award, the highest honor given by the APS. At her demise the annual number of infant deaths from RDS stood at less than 1,000. (bio by: Bob Hufford) 
 
Family links: 
 Parents:
  William C Avery (1894 - 1973)
  Mary M Avery (1890 - 1975)
 
Burial:
First Presbyterian Church Cemetery
Moorestown
Burlington County
New Jersey, USA
Plot: Buried in her parents' plot.
 
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: Bob Hufford
Record added: Jan 13, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 83371819
Dr Mary Ellen Mel Avery
Added by: Bob Hufford
 
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