Dr. Louise Schnaufer

Dr. Louise Schnaufer (Baltimore Sun / October 18, 2011)

Dr. Louise Schnaufer, an internationally renowned pediatric surgeon who had been associated with Union Memorial Hospital and Johns Hopkins Hospital early in her career, died Oct. 14 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Cathedral Village, a Philadelphia retirement community.

The former Ruxton resident was 86.

The daughter of shopkeepers, Dr. Louise Schnaufer was born in Towson and lived above her family's York Road general store, F. W. Schnaufer and Son, which had been established in Towson in the late 19th century by her late paternal grandfather.

After the death of her parents in 1937, she moved to the Towson home of her uncle, J. Rollin Otto, where she lived until graduating in 1942 from Towson High School.

She attended Holton-Arms School in Washington and continued her education at Wellesley College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1947 in zoology.

"I had always been interested in science as a child and in high school in the early 1940s, but I had never known that women could become doctors," Dr. Schnaufer told the National Library of Medicine in an interview.

"In college, there were three pre-med students in my class, and I realized then I had discovered what I wanted to do," she said.

When asked in the interview what was the biggest obstacle she had to overcome in becoming a physician, she replied, "It was trying to get into medical school. At that time, the schools were taking only one token women for each class. I was very fortunate to be accepted at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania."

Dr. Schnaufer earned her medical degree in 1951 from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania and completed a surgical internship and residency at Union Memorial Hospital in 1955, where she was also the hospital's first female chief surgical resident.

She continued her postgraduate training in pediatric surgery at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, studying with Dr. C. Everett Koop, who had established the country's first neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital in the late 1940s. Dr. Koop became Surgeon General of the United States in 1982.

"He was the forefather of pediatric surgery … one of the best surgeons I've ever seen," Dr. Schnaufer told the Los Angeles Times in a 1989 interview.

She was an instructor at Children's Hospital until returning to Baltimore, where she established the city's first pediatric surgical service at Union Memorial Hospital and was a founder of a similar unit at Hopkins Hospital in 1963. In addition, she was a member of the pediatric staff at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

From 1966 to 1971, Dr. Schnaufer was an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"Louise was one of the top pediatric surgeons in the world, and she has been so overlooked in terms of her importance because she was a woman going into medicine, much less than surgery," said Dr. J. Alex Haller Jr., a retired pediatric surgeon and a founder of the pediatric emergency department at Hopkins Hospital, who served as its director from 1972 to 1976.

"I first got to know her when I was in training and the medical students thought that she was a tremendous role model," said Dr. Haller. "At Hopkins, in addition to surgery, she ran our outpatient clinic and taught residents."

"Louise was a terrific surgeon. She was little, deliberate and very, very good technically. Her hand-eye coordination was tremendous," recalled Dr. Haller, who lives in Glencoe.

"She performed a great deal of cardiac and abdominal surgery, and she was a pioneer in the separation of conjoined Siamese twins, which she performed with 'Chick' Koop at Children's Hospital in the 1970s. She was part of the medical team," said Dr. Haller.

He said that Dr. Schnaufer was also a pioneer in the field of reconstructive diaphragm surgery.

"These were babies who were born with a hole in their heart — we'd see about 10 cases a year in Maryland — we'd have to go in and close the hole," explained Dr. Haller. "Louise was the one who introduced woven material which is a special plastic thread that is used in the procedure."

In 1971, Dr. Koop asked Dr. Schnaufer to join the staff at Children's Hospital, where he was then surgeon-in-chief.