Symposium honoring
Greek Women Physicians

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The Hellenic Medical Society (HMS) of New York organized recently the first annual Mary Kalopotakes Symposium at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller Research Labs, honoring Hellenic Women Physicians and Scientists and featuring an array of specialists.

The keynote lecture was delivered by Maria Delivoria-Papadopoulos, MD, on the Mechanisms of Hypoxic Cerebral Injury in the Newborn. Dr. Delivoria-Papadopoulos is Professor of Pediatrics, Physiology, Obs/Gyn at the Drexel University College of Medicine and Director of Neonatal ICU at St. Christopher’s Hospital. The speaker received the first Mary Kalopothakes Award from the HMS, for her 50 years of medical practice and pioneering work in neonatology and prenatal medical research.

The symposium was an idea of Dr. Stella Lymberis, Assistant Professor at the Department of Radiation Oncology, NYU Langone Medical Center, who ultimately organized and coordinated it along with Dr. Maria Theodoulou that graciously scheduled logistics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Nicholas Mezitis, President of HMS, was very supportive and equally enthusiastic about the women in medicine concept. “He and the Executive Board of the Hellenic Medical Society not only approved this inaugural symposium, but also plan to hold it annually to honor distinguished female physicians,” says Stella Lymberis.

On the symposium’s eve, a Lenten diner reception, featuring homemade dishes, was offered by Dr. Lymberis at her residence.

Dr. Maria Delivoria-Papadopoulos, like Maria Kalopothakes, performed a historical first: the successful use of a ventilator to treat premature newborns suffering from respiratory distress syndrome. Prior to her joining the Penn faculty, she resuscitated an 1800-gm (4-lb) premature infant suffering from respiratory distress syndrome at 34 weeks gestation that had had complete cardiorespiratory arrest. Using the Bird respirator, she ventilated the infant for 12 days, after which it survived on its own as presented to the Society for Pediatric Research on May 2, 1963. She has served on several public advisory committees for the National Institutes of Health and has published extensively in medical journals. She has been recognized with countless honors and awards throughout her career, and is a member of numerous professional organizations including the American Pediatric Society, the American Physiological Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

According to Dr. Stella Lymberis, Mary Kalopothakes was born in Athens in 1859, the daughter of Michael D. Kalopothakes a medical doctor from Athens, Greece, and of Martha Hooper Blackler from Marblehead, Massachussetts, USA. She studied at Greek and American schools and graduated from the Harvard Annex (now Radcliffe College). She wanted to study medicine. However, because of the difficulties posed due to the fact that she was a woman in the Greek University, she commenced her studies in Paris, France on October 1886. She returned to Athens in 1894 and passed the oral and written exams and began practicing the specialties of Pediatrics and Gynecology.

The pioneering female physician was an active member of the Union of Greek Women which was mobilized at the onset of the Greco-Turkish War of 1897. She worked as a Director and a surgeon of the Hospital of the Red Cross in Volos. She was recognized by Queen Olga for her daily training and seminars to prepare nurses to serve on the front. At the end of the war of 1897 the Greek women were also recognized by Florence Nightingale, the English nurse who made outstanding contributions to the knowledge and improvement of public health.

Mary Kalopothakes opened a clinic for women and children and trained nurses focusing on public health and the prevention of tuberculosis while always working fulltime as a pediatrician. In 1909 she published a report on public health in Greece outlining rates of infant mortality, hygiene and tuberculosis in the book “The Health of the Nations”. She continued her efforts publishing the book “Elements of Hygiene for Schools” in 1912 and editing the “Hygeia” (Health) magazine. During the Balkan War of 1912 she served in Arta at the Hospital of the Red Cross. In the two wars in which she took part, her contribution as a surgeon was legendary, demonstrating unparalleled dedication, unwavering courage and heroism.

A modest, charitable humanitarian, she attended to poor patients as well as to refugees of the Asia Minor Catastrophe without seeking payment. She found courage in her faith practicing medicine with a selfless dedication. A daughter of the founder of the Greek Evangelical Church, she wrote many hymns. She also wrote in the “Ephemeris ton Paidon” (Childs’ paper) and the “Astir tis Anatolis” (the Star of the East) newspapers that her father edited. She died in January 1941 while the Greek troops enjoyed victories at the Albanian front.

“Mary Kalopothakes will always be remembered as a philanthropic patriotic and pioneer. By honoring Mary’s life and work we hope to help inspire future male and female Hellenic leaders of medicine and science,” commented Stella Lymberis.


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