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John Down- Down Syndrome

  • Posted on Oct 17, 2016

John Langdon Down was a British physician in the early 1800’s whose family was descended from Irish roots. He apprenticed with his father, an apothecary (pharmacist) when he was 14. By the time he was 18 he went to London to study the field of medicine. There,  he worked with a surgeon and under his guidance he learned to bleed patients, extract teeth and wash bottles! John was one of the outstanding students of his time yet he was drawn to the very neglected field of mental health  and had a special interest in those that were placed in asylums.  John was a vigorous defender of higher education for women, having discovered that this education did not, in fact, produce ‘feeble children’ as was the common thought of the day. (I feel a special fondness for a man that helped pave the way for my own career!) John was the first man to start to classify patients in the asylums based on their physical attributes. He had categories that included Malay, Caucasian, Ethiopian and Mongolian. The last was of particular interest to him and this is what lead to patients initially being labeled as Mongoloids. These patients, later discovered to have an extra copy of chromosome 21, were later renamed to have “Down Syndrome” in honor of John Landon Down.  October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I want to point out the average life expectancy in John Down’s time was 9 years (or less). Currently, the average life expectancy is up to age 60. Now that’s something to celebrate!

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