October 15, 2004

Stahlman named Distinguished Alumna

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Mildred Stahlman, M.D.

Stahlman named Distinguished Alumna

Mildred T. Stahlman, M.D., who revolutionized the care of high-risk newborns by creating the world's first modern neonatal intensive care unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has been named the University's 2004 Distinguished Alumna.

The Alumni Association of Vanderbilt will honor Stahlman Nov. 4 during the university's reunion and homecoming weekend.

"This University's reputation rests firmly with the success and actions of its graduates, and Dr. Stahlman's contributions to the field of medicine and to the cause of higher education are nearly immeasurable," said Chancellor Gordon Gee.

Stahlman, a professor of Pediatrics and Pathology, was a 1943 graduate of the College of Arts and Science. She earned her medical degree from Vanderbilt in 1946 and became an instructor in Pediatrics at the medical school in 1951. A decade later she started the first newborn intensive care unit to use respiratory therapy on infants with damaged lungs.

Stahlman was the lead researcher on a National Institutes of Health-funded project to determine what physiological changes occur in babies as they develop from intrauterine life to the world outside the womb.

When a baby girl with severe hyaline membrane disease was born in October of 1961, Stahlman's research was confronted with a life or death situation. The girl's parents gave permission for a bold experiment at the time — helping their daughter breathe through use of a respirator that had been scaled down for premature baby size. The ability to monitor the respirator's effect on blood oxygen with umbilical catheters made respirator therapy possible.

Stahlman played an important role in expanding the care for high-risk infants through the region. She helped bring to fruition a newborn ambulance service called Angel Transport. In addition, she started Vanderbilt's Neonatology Fellowship Training Program and has helped train many physicians from overseas.

"The benefits of Dr. Stahlman's innovative contributions to pediatric medicine and her lifelong commitment of service to both patients and practitioners have advanced the lives of our worldwide community in ways that will multiply for generations to come," said Alumni Association President Sharon Munger.

Stahlman is a member of the Institute of Medicine and a former president of the American Pediatric Society and the Southern Society for Pediatric Research. Her peers have honored her with the Virginia Apgar Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the John Howland Medal, the highest award of the American Pediatric Society.

Stahlman is the seventh recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award, which was established in 1996 to recognize alumni who have furthered Vanderbilt's mission globally through outstanding achievement and service. Previous recipients include renowned heart surgeon Norman E. Shumway, M.D., Cornell University Medical College, Dean Antonio Gotto, M.D., and Thomas F. Frist Jr., M.D., one of the founders and former chairman of HCA.