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Dr. Louis Diamond; Pioneer in Solving Blood Problems

Obituaries

June 25, 1999|From Times Staff Writers

Dr. Louis K. Diamond, the pediatric hematologist who in 1932 recognized and first described the problem of blood group incompatibility between mother and unborn child commonly known as the Rh factor, has died. He was 97.

Diamond, who worked for three universities during his 60-year academic career and helped organize the national Red Cross system for blood donations and collection, died June 14 at his home in Los Angeles.

"He was the founding father of the discipline of pediatric hematology," said Stephen Feig, professor of pediatrics at UCLA. "He put it on the map."

After emigrating from Russia at age 2, Diamond grew up in New York City and graduated from Harvard in 1923--always holding at least two jobs, including one as a short order cook. He earned a medical degree from Harvard four years later.

His interest was children and his goal was pediatrics, dating back to college summers as a camp counselor in New England.

Diamond was barely out of medical school when he started one of the first pediatric hematology research laboratories in the country at Children's Hospital in Boston.

In 1930, he recognized and described thalassemia, a hereditary anemia, in Greek and Italian children in Boston. He also began studies of childhood anemias that identified the importance of iron deficiency in the diet--an inquiry into nutritional anemias that continued into the 1960s, when he focused on kwashiorkor, a disease of protein-starved children in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

In 1932, Diamond published his classic paper describing as a single entity the four newborn hemolytic diseases now known as erythroblastosis fetalis. The diseases were later found to result from the blood group incompatibility of a Rh-negative mother and her Rh-positive fetus.

Douglas Starr, in his 1998 book "Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce," credited Diamond with solving the blood incompatibility problem in 1946 through whole-body blood transfusions. Diamond discovered he could withdraw the fetus' affected blood bit by bit through the umbilical cord, and substitute it with blood compatible with the mother's. Now replaced by Rh vaccines, Diamond's method was in use for many years and reduced the mortality of the disease from 50% to less than 5%, saving the lives of 20,000 babies a year.

At least two other previously unrecognized diseases of the blood bear the nonagenarian doctor's name--Diamond-Blackfan syndrome, a rare congenital anemia in children first described in 1938, and Gardner-Diamond syndrome, an unusual autoerythrocyte sensitivity that affects young women, described in 1950.

Diamond also participated in the first use of chemotherapy in childhood leukemia.

The Blood Grouping Laboratory that Diamond organized in Boston in 1942, and directed for several decades, was the first facility to routinely identify the blood groups of pregnant women, so as to anticipate problems in their newborns.

In 1948, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal physician, Ross McIntyre, Diamond became technical director for the newly established Red Cross National Blood Program. He commuted to Washington for several years to help set it up and traveled to regional centers to encourage and tutor their efforts.

"You have here one of the most successful Red Cross regional blood service programs in the United States," he told the Los Angeles chapter in November 1949, shortly after it set a new civilian blood collection record for the nation.

Diamond spent most of his career at Harvard Medical School, where for four decades he served as professor of pediatrics, head of hematology and associate physician-in-chief at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston.

After he reached Harvard's then-mandatory retirement age of 65, he moved to UC San Francisco as professor of pediatrics. In 1987, he transferred to UCLA as an active professor emeritus.

Diamond was not only a researcher and a clinician but also a teacher of medicine at the most basic diagnostic level. At Harvard, he was known for letting medical students and house staff reel off detailed summaries of a patient's lab tests and history, then quietly asking, "What color were the child's cheeks?"

"Our senses as diagnostic aids have been almost completely replaced by laboratory instruments," he once wrote, "and the consequences may sometimes be disastrous."

Diamond developed training programs in pediatric hematology in both Boston and San Francisco, where a Louis K. Diamond Chair in hematology was established in 1982.

He was author or co-author of about 200 papers and several books, including the 1944 "Atlas of the Blood in Children."

Diamond received numerous awards from such organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pediatric Society, the American Medical Assn. and the American Assn. of Blood Banks. He was also recognized by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation for his research in mental retardation.

Widowed several months ago by the death of his wife of 70 years, Flora, Diamond is survived by two children, Jared Diamond and Susan Diamond, both of Los Angeles, and four grandchildren.

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