Oral Histories: Dr. Arnall Patz
A blog post by intern Kathy Harper. To read more posts by Kathy and other interns, click here.
I’m going into my seventh week as the Photo Archives Intern here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. While most of my duties have pertained to the photograph archives, I’ve also done extra things for my intern duties, including helping out with the upcoming exhibit on Jews, Health and Healing by transcribing oral histories.
The oral history that I transcribed was for Dr. Arnall Patz (1920-2010), a very important figure in medicine, who not only was Jewish, but also spent his adulthood in Baltimore (after growing up in Georgia). He originally came to Baltimore for an internship at the Sinai Hospital in 1945. While in the city, he met his future wife, Ellen, and they wed five years later in 1950. As his career blossomed, he contributed many things to the field of medicine, including building one of the first lasers used in ophthalmology, and also playing a significant role in the prevention of blindness in premature babies. In 2004 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work.
In his early years of medicine Dr. Patz was assigned to various hospitals in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia region, and worked in different sections, ranging from cardiology to venereal disease. From the beginning, however, he developed an interest in pediatrics and ophthalmology. Specifically, he was interested in the blindness of premature babies. At the time, the standard of care for such infants was to give them high amounts of oxygen for weeks. This was thought to be beneficial, but in fact was causing major damage as the oxygen led to overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye which caused permanent damage to the retina. Dr. Patz applied for a research grant to conduct a study in regards to the oxygen given to the premature infants, which was rejected; it was considered to be unethical to restrict the oxygen in babies, and his theory was considered highly controversial. However, the “total rejection” (as Dr. Patz described it in his oral history) did not deter him, and instead he borrowed some money from his brother and conducted the study. At a time when nobody was really doing controlled studies, his was one of the first major clinical trials in American medicine. The study was small, but showed an overwhelming difference between the two groups of infants, the ones who received high amounts of oxygen and those who did not. With the help of Dr. V. Everett Kinsey, he was able to have a national study to further support his findings.
Dr. Patz was an important contributor to the field of medicine, listening to his oral history was very interesting, as was the additional readings I did on him in preparation for this blog post. With only three more weeks left in my internship I’m glad I had the opportunity to find out about him and I encourage anyone who is interested to check out the New York Times article on him that I referenced.
Altman, Lawrence. “Arnall Patz, a Doctor Who Prevented Blindness, Is Dead at 89.” New York Times 15 Mar 2010, n. pag. Web. 16 Jul. 2013. <Arnall Patz, a Doctor Who Prevented Blindness, Is Dead at 89>.