Editorial: Homage to an obstetric legend: Edward H. Hon

December 1, 2006

Dr. Hon and colleagues successfully identified preterminal FHR patterns, fetal vagal responses to head compression, and fetal arrhythmias.

To my great, good fortune, I had the opportunity to get to know Dr. Hon several years ago, when he was a visiting professor at Yale. You might think that FHR would have been the subject of Dr. Hon's presentations at Yale-which he had long considered his academic "home"-but his focus during 3 brief days in New Haven was a brand new invention: noninvasive monitoring of peripheral vascular resistance for prediction of preeclampsia.

Later, I had the honor of accompanying Dr. Hon to a symposium on clinical uses of his new cardiovascular monitor. The location was El Salvador and our traveling companions were Dr. Hon's close friends Drs. Norman Gant and Teiichiro Fukushima, and some of his former fellows and protégés from around the world. And once again, I was amazed by the octogenarian's endurance, wonderful sense of humor, and near youthful enthusiasm for all things obstetric. Even more inspiring was the profound reverence and respect shown by his former students and friends.

The fifth of 11 children of Harry Gee Hon and Cecilia Wong See, Edward H. Hon was born in China in 1917. His birthplace was a bit of an accident, for his parents were Australian and Ed's mother was in China visiting her mother-in-law. A close-knit family, the Hons were devout Seventh-day Adventists. Ed's birthplace and his religious roots would both prove surprisingly helpful to his career, as we'll see later.

The department store that Harry Hon owned in the small town of Tenterfield, Australia, also played a central role in his son's professional development. In 1932, Ed dropped out of high school to work for his father. But the store's new radios spurred what was to become Ed's lifelong passion for all things electronic. And so he returned to academic studies and received a diploma in radio technology from the Marconi School of Wireless in Sydney in 1942. With the advent of World War II, Ed devoted himself to improving military radios and calibration devices at the Phillips Apparatus factory in Sydney.

After the war, he began to consider a career in medicine, specifically as a medical missionary to China. From his research, Ed determined that there was a great need for ob/gyns in China. Admission to the University of Sydney School of Medicine meant finishing school and studying for a highly competitive matriculation examination, both of which he did. To "hedge his bets," he also applied to Union College, an Adventist school in Nebraska. A US visa and acceptance to the Midwest school both arrived before the results of the Australian medical school examination. So, Ed boarded a "mule" ship bound for New Orleans, forsaking the University of Sydney admission, which was guaranteed by examination results that placed him second in a field of hundreds. From March to September 1945, he completed pre-med requirements at Union College and then matriculated at the then-College of Medical Evangelists in Loma Linda, Calif., where he received his MD.

After completing medical school at the top of his class, Dr. Hon served a rotating internship at Loma Linda Hospital but was twice turned down for an ob/gyn residency at the White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles. During the interim he completed a year of a pathology residency. Much to our field's good fortune, Ed was offered a residency by Dr. Herbert Toms, Professor and Chair of the Department of Ob/Gyn at Yale University School of Medicine and developer of the pelvimetry technique that bears his name. Here, Dr. Hon's accidental birthplace was a blessing. His Chinese passport qualified him for funding by the Yale-China Society, a century-old organization that supported the education of exceptional Chinese students at Yale, originally with the intent of their return to China as Congregational ministers.