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Black History Month Spotlight: Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston

Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston was born January 31, 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Gaston has had a desire to help and support low-income and minority communities from a young age. This desire came from her own personal experience of being a in young, poor, uninsured black family and seeing the impacts of that to her own mother. When she was a young child she witnessed her mother fainting and not being able to call for medical assistance. After some time her family was able to get the help she needed and they found out that her mother had cervical cancer. From that experience she knew that she wanted to do something to change the circumstances for people who were just like her and her family.

This desire stayed with her as she grew and helped her as she began her medical career. She attended Miami University in Ohio and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She was one of only six women and the only African American woman in her class. She earned her medical degree in 1964 with her specialty being in pediatrics. Right after college she helped to establish a community health center in the low-income neighborhood of Lincoln Heights, Ohio.

In 1986, Dr. Gaston conducted a study that would have monumental impacts on the health community for years to come. Dr. Gaston was working at the National Institutes of Health, when she conducted and published a study on sickle cell disease. Her study found that complications of sickle cell disease could be avoided with early treatment! The results from this study led to a nationwide screening program to test newborns for immediate treatment of this devastating disease. These screenings became a life-saving practice that became a central policy of the U.S. Public Health Service.

In 1990 Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston became the director of the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration. She was the first African American woman to direct a major health service bureau. In addition to the great work in public health that she has done Dr. Gaston has also received every award that the Public Health Service can bestow upon a medical professional. Dr. Gaston is currently living in Maryland and continues to inspire and serve.

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