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June 11, Children’s Alumni Association celebrated its 100th anniversary
by presenting the 50th annual Blackfan Lecture. This nationally
recognized lectureship, delivered by Lawrence Summers, president
of Harvard University, honored Kenneth D. Blackfan, MD, Children’s
Blackfan was born in 1883 in New York’s Hudson Valley
region, became a doctor in 1905 and worked as a general practitioner
with his father until 1909. The young doctor had a robust curiosity
about the future of medicine, and eventually left his family’s practice
for a succession of residencies in pediatric medicine. Blackfan
came to Harvard and Children’s Hospital in Boston in 1923.
A quiet and unpretentious man, Blackfan had an incredible
memory for clinical detail and was an unparalleled bedside teacher.
While maintaining a steady interest in the various specialties of
medicine, particularly in hematology, neonatology and what he called
“chronic” or “acute nutritional disturbances,” he emphasized the
essential attention to details of history and physical examination
with his students.
Blackfan fully recognized the importance of research
and laboratory work to patient care—not only within the hospital,
but to the practice of medicine in general. His research in a variety
of areas, such as environmental temperatures and relative humidity
and their effects on the health of infants, was especially influential.
His work led Children’s and the Infants’ Hospital to develop a shared
interest and specialty in premature infants.
It was not Blackfan’s way to seek out fame and recognition
for his accomplishments, and the implications of his contributions
to pediatrics were not felt until much later. Although he published
little under his own name, he did contribute to numerous articles
and papers, claiming no credit for himself.
At 58, at the height of his career as a teacher and
physician, Blackfan developed lung cancer and died in 1941. The
Alumni Association was proud to carry his memory forward with the
annual Blackfan Lecture.