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C. Everett Koop, ‘rock star’ surgeon general, dies
Koop was modest about his accomplishments, saying before leaving office in 1989, “My only influence was through moral suasion.”
The office declined after that. Few of his successors had his speaking ability or stage presence. Fewer still were able to secure the support of key political bosses and overcome the meddling of everyone else. The office gradually lost prestige and visibility, and now has come to a point where most people can’t name the current surgeon general. (It’s Dr. Regina Benjamin.)
Even after leaving office, Koop continued to promote public health causes, from preventing childhood accidents to better training for doctors.
“I will use the written word, the spoken word and whatever I can in the electronic media to deliver health messages to this country as long as people will listen,” he promised.
In 1996, he rapped Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole for suggesting that tobacco was not invariably addictive, saying Dole’s comments “either exposed his abysmal lack of knowledge of nicotine addiction or his blind support of the tobacco industry.”
He maintained his personal opposition to abortion. After he left office, he told medical students it violated their Hippocratic oath. In 2009, he wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, urging that health care legislation include a provision to ensure doctors and medical students would not be forced to perform abortions. The letter briefly set off a security scare because it was hand delivered.
Koop served as chairman of the National Safe Kids Campaign and as an adviser to President Bill Clinton’s health care reform plan.
Worried that medicine had lost old-fashioned caring and personal relationships between doctors and patients, Koop opened an institute at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to teach medical students basic values and ethics. He also was a part-owner of a short-lived venture, drkoop.com, to provide consumer health care information via the Internet.
Koop was the only son of a Manhattan banker and the nephew of a doctor. He said by age 5 he knew he wanted to be a surgeon and at age 13 he practiced his skills on neighborhood cats. He attended Dartmouth, where he received the nickname Chick, short for “chicken Koop.” It stuck for life.
He received his medical degree at Cornell Medical College, choosing pediatric surgery because so few surgeons practiced it. In 1938, he married Elizabeth Flanagan, the daughter of a Connecticut doctor. They had four children. Koop’s wife died in 2007, and he married Cora Hogue in 2010.
He was appointed surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and served as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He pioneered surgery on newborns and successfully separated three sets of conjoined twins. He won national acclaim by reconstructing the chest of a baby born with the heart outside the body.
Although raised as a Baptist, he was drawn to a Presbyterian church near the hospital, where he developed an abiding faith. He began praying at the bedside of his young patients _ ignoring the snickers of some of his colleagues.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt.; Jeff McMillan in Philadelphia; and AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard in Washington.
By Brahma Chellaney
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