Leila Denmark: The woman who saved the world from whooping cough by saving her own daughter

She was and still is considered a legend in medical field

Women have been at the forefront of the medical front for the last hundred years. And one of the most famous female names is Leila Denmark. She saved the world from whooping cough by saving her own daughter. And she lived 114 years living in three centuries of humanity: XIX, XX and XXI.

Life record holder

The only girl in her class (yes, all the others were men). A prestigious medical award four years after the start of medical practice. Active volunteering on the job. Retirement at one hundred and three years due to the onset of vision problems. A long happy marriage. And all this started in an ordinary large farming family. When you describe her life, it seems as if you are following a character from the Sims, which is controlled by a very, very experienced player.

But she was real and, by the way, recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. At the time of her departure, she was the oldest practicing doctor, at the time of her death, one of the five oldest people in the world – 114 years is no joke.

She was considered an idealist, overly optimistic, child-centered, and sometimes attributed unjustified anxiety. So, Leila Denmark was one of the first pediatricians who began to assert the dangers of passive smoking for children. Later it was confirmed that passive smoking was harmful in principle, but it was especially harmful in the long term for girls, seriously impairing the functioning of their cardiovascular system.

And here are her other ideas: it is harmful to drink anything other than water both for children after breastfeeding, and people in general. Milk, tea, coffee, and even juices and soda. “Instead of juice, give children fruits or vegetables to eat,” she advised parents and she herself steadily followed her advice. In her entire life, she has not drunk any “drinks”, only water since seven months of her life. She also considered sugar superfluous. There is plenty of it in fruits and vegetables. When she, who had already crossed her centenary milestone, was presented with a cake, she thanked, but flatly refused to eat it and returned it. She didn’t really like it when food went missing.

Was everything predetermined?

Denmark was not just one of the record holders in age, she was one of those record holders who are known for something besides life expectancy (ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, neuroscientist Rita Levi-Montalcini, righteous of the world and medicine woman Zura Karuhimbi, traveler Freya Stark also stand in this row). First of all, in such cases, they talk about good genetics and advise you to look at your parents. But Leila Alice’s mother died at forty-five, her father in his early sixties. But her husband was in his nineties, and after all, he constantly listened to her advice about health.

Her daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are sure that it’s all about the lifestyle. Leila was kept in a constant tone by the love of healthy food, endless optimism and the fact that she loved her work very much. Moreover, she considered an unloved job extremely harmful to one’s health. And maybe she was right.

Strong intelligence is also hardly a purely genetic inheritance. Leila Alice Daughtry was born into a farming family, and her parents had twelve children in total. Neither the ancestors nor the brothers and sisters were famous for discoveries, inventions, research or something like that. All this was Leila’s personal achievement, all the more surprising because she was born in 1898, at a time when social achievements were not very accessible to the general population.

How to become medical celebrities

Leila wasn’t going to be a doctor at all. She adored children from an early age, and therefore went to study as a teacher. The most important thing was to spend the rest of her life messing with the kids. But fate turned in its own way. Leila’s beloved fiance, John Denmark, a young (two years younger than her) economist, was sent by the state to the island of Java, Indonesia. Marrying him to be around was not an option. His position did not involve permission to transport the family with him. Leila transferred to the Medical college of Georgia, becoming the only girl on the course. It was easy for a doctor to find a job in Indonesia. After all, pediatricians also spend their whole lives working with children!’

In the end, Leila Alice did not lose. Her new career turned out just amazing, and she lived with her husband until his nineties soul to soul, and all because “they had fun together”, that’s how she explained it. Both loved outdoor activities and both always listened to each other.

John did not insist that their family be like a picture: a housewife mom bakes a pie for a bunch of children while dad admires them. Leila Alice gave birth to her first and only child when she already became a practicing doctor and got a little stronger in her profession. Two years after the birth of the desired daughter, the family was overtaken by misfortune. In Georgia, USA, where they were already living, an epidemic of whooping cough broke out (an acute bacterial infection that was transmitted by airborne droplets, its most characteristic sign was a paroxysmal cough).

The girl got infected. She was in danger of a painful death. Denmark was torn between seeing sick children and caring for her own daughter. And she had enough strength to conduct scientific observations, experiment, extract and analyze material. As a result of her efforts and, of course, several other scientists, a vaccine against whooping cough was finally developed, and her daughter and young patients began to recover. Two years later, Dr. Denmark received the prestigious Fischer Medical Award for her amazing contribution to the fight against whooping cough. And about twenty years later she was recognized as the Woman of the Year.

Dr. Denmark’s Principles

Some got less and some got more. Those who got less needed help – this has always been the opinion of Denmark, who could present her own successes to all the arguments about those who did not succeed in this life, each of which she achieved solely on her own. In parallel with her practice, sometimes in the hospital (necessarily not far from home to quickly get to an emergency call!), then at home she volunteered at the Central Presbyterian Children’s Clinic of Atlanta, helping children whose parents could not pay for insurance or a one-time appointment.

During her long life, she was so busy that she wrote only two books about children’s health, although she, no doubt, had something to say for ten books. Her basic principles are known from these books and interviews. Some of them are shocking. She stated that it is better for pregnant women not to drink coffee or that young children need to cry a lot, so they should not be constantly comforted and entertained. Crying develops their lungs. Others are now popular: do not smoke in front of children, instead of a “healthy” juice full of sugar, it is better to give fruit and water instead of both.

In any case, Denmark insisted that only parents know which recommendations to listen to. But not without pride, she added that all the long years of her practice, her recommendations worked. In addition, it is unlikely that her book “Every child should have a chance” was reprinted several times from scratch…

Here are some famous quotes from Dr. Denmark:

Wealth is when you have something to give to those in need.

Being a woman is wonderful. There has never been any doubt about this.

Many people are thinking about tomorrow. But is it worth it? Tomorrow may never come.

In any situation, you need to keep your sense of humor.

Being a good mother or father is the only worthwhile job on Earth.

It takes a lot of stupid people to make the rich even richer.

​Never do or say something you would want to forget one day.

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