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STEM is for Everyone: Helen Taussig, Pediatric Cardiologist

Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig was a pioneer in pediatric cardiology and changed the outcome for thousands of children born with blue baby syndrome. Due to hearing loss, Dr. Taussig used her hands to "listen" to heart rhythms.

Icons related to heart health and medicine to represent Dr. Helen Taussig's career in pediatric cardiology

A Career Studying the Heart

Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig's research and work as a physician made a difference for thousands of babies born with congenital heart defects. She also helped prevent a potential epidemic of birth defects by advocating against the approval of thalidomide in the United States.

Dr. Taussig pursued her education and medical career in the early 1900s, a time when "public health" was suggested as more appropriate for a woman than being a doctor and not all universities granted advanced degrees to women. She was also dyslexic and suffered hearing loss caused by whooping cough. She did not let these challenges stand in her way.

Her story is an inspiring example of a scientist pursuing a passion and succeeding, despite societal and physical challenges.

Treating Blue Baby Syndrome

Today, babies born with anoxemia or "blue baby" syndrome have a better chance at survival because of Dr. Taussig. Blue baby syndrome is often caused by a congenital heart defect. After identifying problems contributing to reduced blood flow to the lungs in children with blue baby syndrome, Dr. Taussig hypothesized a new surgical treatment that was then tested by surgeon Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, a surgical technician. The procedure is now known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt.

Listening to the Heart

Cardiologists rely on a stethoscope to listen to a patient's heart. When Dr. Taussig lost her hearing, she was able to use hearing aids and lipreading for communication, but when treating patients, she used her fingers. She developed a method of "listening" to a child's heart using her fingers and was able to detect problems like heart murmurs through touch.

Dr. Taussig is referred to as the founder of pediatric cardiology. After graduating from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1927, she served as head of the Children's Heart Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1930 to 1936. She continued to work at Johns Hopkins until her retirement in 1963. In 1965, Dr. Taussig was elected as the first woman president of the American Heart Association.

Explore Heart Health and Human Biology with Student Projects and Lessons

Students inspired by Dr. Taussig's story and interested in human biology, heart health, and medicine may enjoy projects like these:

Educators can teach about health and human biology with lesson plans like these:

Related STEM Careers

The following career profiles help students learn more about careers related to medicine and health:

Learn More

The STEM is for Everyone Series

For more information about this series of profiles of scientists with disabilities and to learn about other scientists and engineers, see the following posts:

This post is part of our STEM is for Everyone: Scientists with Disabilities series. This series is made possible by generous support from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, a non-profit foundation jointly funded by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation of Japan and its US affiliates, working to make changes for the better by empowering youth with disabilities to lead productive lives.

Insect icons adapted from icons by Freepik from www.flaticon.com.

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