Readers React: SCD and the work of Dr. Doris Wethers

September 20, 2019
Melody T. McCloud, M.D.

Volume 64, Issue 9

Life expectancy of patients with SCD now approximates 50 years of age, compared to 10 years of age in the 1970s. This major improvement in outcomes didn't spontaneously happen.

To the Editors:

I read with interest Dr. Andra James' article about sickle cell disease (SCD). As noted, life expectancy of patients with SCD now approximates 50 years of age, compared to 10 years of age in the 1970s. This major improvement in outcomes didn't spontaneously happen via genetic mutation or evolution.

It should be known in wider circles that such an improvement in patient outcomes and life expectancy of patients with SCD is primarily due to the yeoman, trailblazing work of Dr. Doris Wethers, a Black female pediatrician who practiced in New York City. I was happy and honored to have had her as my pediatrician when I was  a little girl. I used to love to go to her office, smell the rubbing alcohol waft through the air and know that "she helped people feel better." She was instrumental in my becoming a physician.

Dr. Doris Wethers was the third Black female to graduate Yale School of Medicine (1952). She later became Chief of Pediatrics at Knickerbocker Hospital (which previously refused to admit or treat Black patients). She served in that capacity at other hospitals, including Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital in NYC, where in 1958, she became the first Black attending physician.

Wethers opened SCD programs at every hospital in which she practiced and was recognized among her peers and by legislative bodies. Her efforts led to New York being the first state to mandate testing for all children.

As stated in her January 2019  NY Times obituary, Wethers was "renowned for research and advocacy that helped lead to mandatory testing of all newborns for sickle cell anemia."

Because SCD can be found not only in Blacks, in 1987 Dr. Wethers chaired a panel of the National Institutes of Health; "it recommended routine screening of all babies, regardless of race or ethnicity." As a result of Wethers' work, since 2006, all states now provide universal screening.

I wish to recognize the exemplar work of my former pediatrician, Dr. Doris Wethers.

Melody T. McCloud, M.D.Founder & Medical Director, Atlanta Women's Health Care
Atlanta, GA

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