Curtis Lester Mendelson
Biography of Curtis Lester Mendelson
Curtis Lester Mendelson studied at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York State, where he completed his medical education in 1938. He subsequently received his clinical education at New York Hospital, a hospital strongly affiliated with Cornell University, and immediately devoted his efforts to his speciality, gynaecology and obstetrics. He served with this hospital from 1938 to 1959.
Between 1932 and 1945 66 cases of aspiration had occurred in obstetrical surgery at New York Hospital. Since the aspiration was obvious in many cases, these pulmonary complications thus were given a number of conspicuously differing and imaginative diagnoses.
In order to elucidate the problem, Mendelson began collaborating with a female colleague, May William, who was in charge of the paediatric clinic at New York Hospital. At this rheumatic valve anomalies were not uncommon. Mendelson became involved when girls in this situation reached mature age and became pregnant. Mendelson recognised that he had to achieve more thorough insight in cardiology and subsequently worked in a number of clinics in the US, obtaining a license as a specialist in cardiology. Through his newly gained knowledge and cooperation with thorax surgeons, Mendelson’s work contributed significantly to improving the prognosis for pregnant women with valve anomalies. It was a pioneering effort.
In 1941 Curtis Mendelson married Marie Krause, who was a dietician. Having no children, the couple devoted themselves to their careers. Mendelson was interested in flying and obtained a pilot’s certificate. Despite his successful career, however, he felt bored with New York and wished for a different life.
In 1959 he and his wife hired a small single engine plane and took off for the West Indies. They happened to pass the Abaco Islands, a small group if islands in the Bahamas, and landed for supplies. Mendelson felt he had found his paradise, and the next year the Mendelsons settled on Green Turtle Cay is a very small island in the Abaco group with just 700 inhabitants, no clinic and not even a doctor. Mendelson became a doctor for both inhabitants and their domestic animals, and both he and his wife enjoyed life here immensely. In 1961 New York Hospital regrettingly accepted his resignation as professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and at the age of only 46 years Mendelson abandoned his career for a totally different life.
On Green Turtle Cay Mendelson continued writing and in 1960 he published Cardiac Disease in Pregnancy, a logical result of his somewhat unconventional mixture of specialities. At the same time his wife wrote Nutrition and Health. Mendelson did not consider it a masterpiece, but soon had to accept that his judgement had had been wrong. His wife’s book became a success and eventually appeared in at least nine editions., while his own book hardly sold the first edition.
Besides flying, another of his favourite hobbies was swimming. He was a member of the English Channel Swimming Association and in 1970 he made his last attempt to swim the channel between France and England.
Curtis Mendelson served the inhabitants on his paradise island until 1990 when he, aged 77, moved to West Palm Beach in Florida.
- T. F. Baskett:
Eponyms and names in obstetrics and gynaecology.
London, Rcog Press, 1996: 147-148.
- Magnus Carlsson, Göran Lindskog, Fredrik Hammarskjöld:
Lämnade karriären för et liv som bydoktor på Bahamas.
In the series: The Man Behind the Syndrome. Läkartidningen, Stockholm, 95 (5): 400-401.