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Kenneth Daniel Blackfan

Born 1883
Died 1941

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American paediatrician, born September 9, 1883, Cambridge, New York; died November 1941.

Biography of Kenneth Daniel Blackfan

Kenneth Daniel Blackfan studied at the Albany Medical School of Union University, New York. He graduated from Albany College n 1905, aged 22, and subsequently went home to join his father in general practice. However, four years later, in 1909, he returned to Albany seeking academic challenge. Encouraged by Richard Mills Pearce (1874-1930), who had inspired him during his summer holidays when he was a student, he went to the Founding Hospital in Philadelphia to commence his career as a paediatrician.

In 1911 John Howland (1873-1926), professor of paediatrics at Washington University, St. Louis, offered him a residency, and in 1913 he followed Howland to Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore in order to undertake advanced training in paediatrics. Here he worked with Walter Edward Dandy (1886-1946) on internal hydrocephalus. By injecting dye into the ventricle of a dog, they discovered where the cerebrospinal fluid originated, and was absorbed. This knowledge enabled them to induce hydrocephalus in laboratory animals by blocking the aqueduct of Sylvius.

Blackfan later showed dehydration to be the most important problem in infant diarrhoea. In 1918 he was the first in the American literature to mention intraperitoneal injections of saline solutions.

Blackfan was associate professor of paediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from 1918 to 1920. From 1920 to 1923 he served as the first Rachford Professor of Pediatrics at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. In 1923 he was called to Harvard University where he became director of clinical services at the Children’s Hospital and professor of paediatrics. He occupied these posts until his death in 1941.

Blackfan’s major concern was the teaching of paediatrics; his main research interests were in nutrition and haematology. He was Louis Klein Diamond’s mentor, and together they wrote Atlas of the Blood in Childhood, which was published after the death of Blackfan. In 1938, when they described “their” syndrome, Diamond was a junior member of Blackfan’s staff.

    «I have found from experience that ‘atypical’ cases usually turn out to be typical cases of something else. The job is to identify the ‘something else’.»

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