Published on December 16th, 20140
Remembering Marion Downs
By Lynda Gibbons, M.Sc., Aud(C), SAC’s Audiology Advisor
The audiology community has recently lost one its great pioneers. Marion Downs, referred to by many as the “mother of pediatric audiology”, passed away on November 13, 2014, at the age of 100 years and 10 months.
Downs’ passion and enthusiasm for audiology and life was an inspiration. She was a tireless advocate for early identification and intervention of infants with hearing loss. She was a mentor to so many in our field, and she has left a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
Like many of us, Downs stumbled upon her career in audiology. When she was looking to enrol in a graduate program at the University of Denver, she chose the program with the shortest line. The program was Speech Pathology and Audiology. Once she discovered her keen interest in audiology, the rest was history.
Her contributions to audiology were numerous. Together with Jerry Northern, she co-wrote Hearing in Children, one of the classic textbooks of pediatric audiology. The text is now in its sixth edition, and it has been well-loved by audiology students around the world. Marion also had a long list of publications and honours to her credit. She was a professor of audiology at the University of Denver, and she spent several years working at the otolaryngology clinic at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Perhaps one of her most enduring accomplishments was her dedication to early identification and intervention for children with hearing loss. In the 1950s, she and Doreen Pollack noticed that the earlier babies with hearing loss received hearing aids, the better speech and language development outcomes they experienced. Conventional wisdom at the time suggested otherwise, but Marion persisted in her beliefs, and she became an advocate and proponent of universal newborn hearing screening. She formed the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing, a committee which has been instrumental in recommending and promoting universal newborn hearing screening.
Eventually, evidence-based research confirmed what she and others had suspected for so long: infants with hearing loss need to be identified and fit with appropriate amplification as soon as possible. Thanks to her work, universal newborn hearing screening is now in place in the United States and in many countries around the world. Here in Canada, countless communication health professionals have taken up her challenge and continue to advocate for universal newborn hearing screening programs across the country.
One cannot help but admire Marion Downs’ complete zest for audiology and enjoying life. She has left a legacy of countless patients who have benefitted from early identification of hearing loss. She was a mentor to so many audiologists and audiology students, who in turn have inspired other audiologists to achieve excellence. Let us honour her memory by continuing to care deeply about our patients, striving for excellence regarding their care, and taking time to cherish life.
Downs, M. P. (2006). Sones from an old sound room: memories from a life in audiology. MDCH: Marion Downs Hearing Center. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://hdl.handle.net/10968/270
Kirkwood, David. (2014). Marion Downs, acclaimed as “mother of pediatric audiology,” dies at 100. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearingnewswatch/2014/marion-downs-acclaimed-mother-pediatric-audiology-dies-100/
Traynor, Robert. (2014). Marion P. Downs, DHS, Hon Sc.D. – International Audiologist. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://hearinghealthmatters.org/hearinginternational/2014/marion-downs-dhs-international-audiologist/
Lynda Gibbons, M.Sc., Aud(C)
SAC’s Audiology Advisor