Sickle Cell Pioneer Dr Doris Wethers Dead at 91

Megan Brooks

February 12, 2019

Doris Louise Wethers, MD, well known for her research on sickle cell disease, died January 28 in Yonkers, New York, from complications of a stroke. She was 91.

Dr Doris Wethers. Courtesy of John Curtis,
Yale University

Wethers also helped blaze a trail for African American women in the medical community. She was the third black woman to graduate from Yale Medical School.

She cofounded the Foundation for Research and Education in Sickle Cell Disease and in 1987 chaired the panel on sickle cell screening commissioned by the National Institutes of Health. The panel recommended that all newborn babies, regardless of ethnicity, be routinely tested for sickle cell anemia — a policy that was implemented nationwide by 2006.

Wethers was "on the frontline of patient care long before any federal funding for sickle cell disease," Clarice Reid, MD, former national director of the sickle cell disease program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, told the New York Times. Wethers was "the consummate clinician and a fearless advocate for improved patient care" and played a "key role in many of the clinical advances of the '80s and '90s," Reid told the paper.

Wethers was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on December 14, 1927. She graduated magna cum laude from Queens College, Flushing, New York, in 1948 with a degree in chemistry. In 1952, she earned her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

"A Calling"

For 10 years, Wethers was a pediatrician in private practice. Her office was located next to her father's, who was also a physician.

According to a 2002 article in Yale Medicine, Wethers was inspired by her father to become a physician. She recalled sitting in the family car as a young girl waiting for her father to complete a house call. Her dolls often had one sort of medical problem.

It was "a calling" that led her to enroll in Yale in a class of 65 students that included only eight other women and she was the only African American woman, she told the magazine.

In 1958, Wethers became the first black attending physician at Saint Luke's Hospital in New York City. Wethers conducted research and inpatient rounds for medical students learning about sickle cell disease. Wethers served as director of the hospital's sickle cell program until retiring in 1999. During her career, Wethers also created sickle cell anemia programs at other New York hospitals.

Wethers married Garvall Booker, a dentist, in 1953. He died in 1996. She is survived by their two sons, Buddy and David Boyd Booker, and three grandchildren.

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