“My interest in premature babies started as a teenager, when I spent my summer vacations as a nurse's aid at a Leprosarium outside Pretoria, caring for premature babies who had been born to women with leprosy and removed from their care.”
Stephanie Tubbs Jones
“INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED EXPERT ON PREMATURE BABIES”
But for a bureaucratic quirk in her native South Africa permitting medical students to start their studies at 16 years of age (while preventing would-be nurses to study until they were 17), Maureen Hack would have become a nurse. Fortunately for generations of children everywhere, she chose medical school and has become one of the world's foremost authorities on low birth weight babies.
In the view of Rep. Stephanie Jones (D-OH-11), who nominated Hack to be a Local Legend of Medicine, "her considerable contribution in identifying risk factors and characterizing short and long-term outcomes of pre-term infants has had a significant and continuing bearing in the field of neonatal medicine." Hack is a professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Case Western Reserve University, where she also directs the High Risk Follow-Up Program.
"As the daughter of a physician, I often accompanied my dad on house calls, which also influenced my decision to become a doctor," said Hack. After completing her medical studies in Pretoria, she left in 1960 for Israel, where she would spend the next several years honing her skills and developing her professional focus at Sheba Medical Center, in Tel Aviv.
"It was during the 1960's that pediatricians were being allowed in the delivery room for the first time to provide care for babies-and make decisions about neonatal care," Hack recalled.
By the mid-1970s she had risen to become Associate Director of Newborn and Premature Nurseries at Sheba and had also landed a research fellowship in neonatology at Case Western Reserve where, in 1973, she would begin a landmark, long-term continuing study of premature babies.
Normally, researchers stop studying preemies once they reach childhood. But Hack chose to follow a group of 242 such infants-born between 1977 and 1979-until they reached their early twenties.
Beginning in 1989 in a series of articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, she has published her findings, discovering that despite technological advances in care assuring their greater survival, when compared with normal birth weight babies, her cohort suffered from significant medical problems, including cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness.
"Also," she said, "we knew low birth weight babies were smaller in their first year of life, but we wanted to see if they caught up by the time they reached their twenties." The latest results, published in July 2005, reveal that the boys never caught up with their normal birth weight peers, while the girls eventually did. Hack also found that her young adults were less likely to use drugs, alcohol or become pregnant than the normal-weight control group.
Hoping to study her group of young adults into their 30's, Hack says, "I never envisioned that I would end up as researcher doing long-term epidemiology studies. But I feel very lucky and it's been very rewarding!"
Completes Pediatric Residency, Sheba Medical Centre, Israel
Completes research fellowship in Neonatology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland
Appointed Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Case Western Reserve University
Sage Audiovisual Award. Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine
Awarded tenure, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University
Publishes first in series of continuing reports in the New England Journal of Medicine on results of long-term study of 242 premature infants
Appointed Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Director, High Risk Follow-Up Program, Case Western Reserve University
Pretoria University Medical School (South Africa)