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William Silverman, Pioneering Neonatologist, Dies

William Silverman, the father of neonatal intensive care, died Dec. 16 at his home in Greenbrae, California. He was 87.

Silverman's work in the neonatal intensive care unit at Babies Hospital of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center (now the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian) in the 1950s helped determine that heavy concentrations of oxygen -- then used to treat premature infants -- could permanently damage their eyesight. The condition, now known as retinopathy of prematurity, blinded an estimated 10,000 children worldwide.

As Silverman witnessed the rapid introduction of new drugs and procedures, he advocated the increased use of randomized, controlled clinical trials. In his later years, Silverman became a controversial critic of the neonatology practices that saved the lives of premature infants but left them with severe physical and mental disabilities.

Born in Cleveland and raised in Los Angeles, Silverman received a bachelor's degree from UCLA and attended medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. He completed his residency at Babies Hospital and became an instructor at Columbia in 1948. He continued to teach at Columbia until 1968, when he was appointed chief of the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital of San Francisco. He also served as an adviser to the Blind Babies Foundation and in 2003, received the Migel Medal, the highest award from the American Foundation for the Blind.

His books include Where's the Evidence? Debates in Modern Medicine (1998); Human Experimentation: A Guided Step into the Unknown (1985); and Retrolental Fibroplasia: A Modern Parable (1980).

Silverman is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ruth; a daughter, Jen; his sons, Daniel and David; and two grandchildren.

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Published: Jan 14, 2005
Last modified: Jan 14, 2005

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