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Vital Signs

Nation's capital fetes Dartmouth's Dr. Koop on his 90th birthday

By Laura Stephenson Carter

Party planners in the nation's capital couldn't wait for former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop to actually turn 90 before throwing him a big party. On September 13, 2006— a month before Dr. Koop's birthday— a gala celebration was held at the historic Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C.

Prominent: More than 200 people attended. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Orrin Hatch were the event's cochairs. Other prominent politicians and physicians paid him tribute. Three of his successors as U.S. surgeon general were there, and many of his former pediatric surgery trainees traveled to Washington for the event. And Koop himself gave a speech about the next great task for our century—obtaining health care for all Americans.

Then back home in the Upper Valley, on November 2, he was the guest of honor at yet another birthday celebration. This one was at DHMC. And this time the celebration commemorated not only the birthday milestone, but also the fact that a new DHMC research complex is to be named after him.

Career: Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on October 14, 1916, Koop graduated from Dartmouth College in 1937. He spent much of his career as a pediatric surgeon and established the first neonatal unit in the U.S. at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He served as U.S. surgeon general from 1981 to 1989. In addition to being the government's chief spokesperson on AIDS in the tumultuous years after the disease's identification, he advised the public on a variety of other matters: smoking's effect on health; diet and nutrition; environmental health hazards; and the importance of immunization and disease prevention.

In 1992, he established the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth, where he is still active as the Institute's senior scholar and a relentless advocate for public health and health education. He is also the Elizabeth DeCamp McInerny Professor of Surgery at Dartmouth Medical School.

Golden: "I frequently muse upon the fact that I've had a very wonderful life," Koop told Dartmouth Medicine recently. "I think I was practicing pediatric surgery right in the middle of the golden era of surgery. And I think that the eight years that I spent as Surgeon General was right on the cusp of the best years in public health. So I've seen the best. I've been part of the best. And that brings a sense of gratification."

When asked what he might have done if he hadn't been a physician, he chuckles. "It's funny—if I hadn't been a physician, I probably would have . . . run a bookstore," he says. "I would have always been associated with finding eager young minds who wanted to learn more, because that is the biggest kick I get out of what I do."

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