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History of Achievement

NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center and the NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center each have a long history of notable achievements in the world of medicine. New treatments, tests, and procedures have come out of these institutions year after year, and the innovation continues today. Here are the stories behind some of the firsts.

First Use of Apgar Score

For 47 years, physicians and midwives have used the Agpar score to measure how well a newborn is adapting to life outside the uterus and whether any immediate medical intervention, such as resuscitation, is necessary. The score is based on the assessments of five signs-heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, reflex irritability, and skin color-that are made one minute and five minutes after birth.

Virginia Apgar, MD, a graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and an anesthesiologist at Columbia University Medical Center, developed the score. When she was named Director of Anesthesiology at Columbia University Medical Center in 1938, Dr. Apgar was the first woman physician in the country to hold such a position. She later became the first woman at Columbia University to be named a full professor.

First Non-Scalpel Vasectomy in America

The most popular contraceptive option in the U.S. – sterilization – has been made easier, thanks to the efforts of physicians at NewYork Weill Cornell Medical Center. In 1986, attending urologist Marc Goldstein, MD, performed the first non-scalpel vasectomy in the U.S. He had earlier studied the procedure with its developer in China.

Performed through a hole two millimeters wide instead of through the inch-long incision required by the traditional vasectomy, the non-scalpel procedure reduces patient bleeding, discomfort, complications, and recovery time. It can be performed in seven minutes rather than 30, and it is easier to reverse-an important consideration in light of the fact that 10 percent of men who undergo vasectomy change their minds.

To date, Dr. Goldstein has trained nearly 100 physicians in the U.S. in the non-scalpel procedure.

Fist Successful Heart Transplant in a Child

Columbia University Medical Center's then Chief of Transplant Surgery, Eric Rose, MD, and then Director of Surgery, Keith Reetsma, MD, made medical history on June 9, 1984. On that day they transplanted a heart into a 4½-year-old child from Denver named James Patrick Lovette. Because the heart was so small, the surgeons had to wear magnifying eyeglasses during the 5 ½-hour procedure, which was the first successful heart transplant in a child.

Born with a congenital heart defect, J.P. Lovette underwent surgery immediately after birth that bought him time until he could undergo a transplant. Now a young adult, J.P. told ABC's "Good Morning America" in November 1997 that he hopes to become a doctor.

First Use of Pap Test

During the 47 years George N. Papanicolaou, MD, PhD, was associated with Cornell University Medical College, the Greek-born physician and professor of anatomy invented a gynecological procedure known as the "Pap test," or smear, to detect the early stages of uterine cancer. The highly reliable laboratory test examines vaginal secretions and scrapings from the cervix for the presence of malignant cells.

According to the American Cancer Society, between 1955 and 1992, the number of cervical cancer deaths in the U.S. declined by 74 percent. The main reason for this change is the increased use of the Pap test.

The Papanicolaou test also can be used to examine secretions from the respiratory and digestive tracts for the presence of cancer.

First Blood Test for Prostate Cancer

The first blood test for prostate cancer was developed in the 1930s, using acid phosphatase, the first "tumor marker" that could be measured in the blood. The prostate cancer test grew out of the extensive studies that Alexander Gutman, MD, conducted with his colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center. Their work not only resulted in the prostate test, but also established the significance of acid phosphatase in human disease.

First Medical Use of the Laser Beam

In November 1961, physicians at Columbia University Medical Center trained a laser beam on a tumor inside the eye of a male patient and in one thousandth of a second destroyed the growth that threatened his eye. Until that time, the use of laser beams to correct eye problems had been tested only on rabbits. This case proved that the laser can be used on humans.

First to Synthesize Penicillin

An unprecedented mobilization of scientific talent in the U.S. and Britain during World War II resulted in the development of the first synthetic penicillin in 1946. The synthetic drug was just as potent as the penicillin derived from the mold that grows on bread, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928.

Although synthetic penicillin resulted from the efforts of 38 teams of scientists, 21 in the U.S. and 17 in Britain, the final experiments were carried out at NewYork Hospital-Cornell Medical Center under the leadership of Dr. Vincent du Vigneaud, Professor and Chairman of Biochemistry at Cornell Medical College. According to The New York Times, "The synthesis opened new vistas for the artificial creation of new types of penicillin, or entirely different substances for the conquest of many bacterial diseases against which the mold-produced penicillins were not effective."

Dr. du Vigneaud was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1955. The laboratories he led are credited with some of the most important discoveries in biochemistry in the 20th century.

First Female Professor of Clinical Medicine

In 1946, a family physician became the first woman Professor of Clinical Medicine in the U.S.

Connie Guion, MD, taught at Cornell University Medical College from 1929 to 1951. She also was the first female member of the NewYork Hospital Medical Board and the first woman to be made an honorary member of the Hospital's Board of Governors.

Dr. Guion taught and promoted a Comprehensive Care Program, which coordinated all aspects of medical care for each outpatient. She exerted a far-reaching influence through the program, which was studied by visitors from all over the world. The Dr. Connie Guion Building, one of the most modern outpatient facilities when it was dedicated in 1963, is believed to be the first hospital building in the world dedicated to a living woman doctor.

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