Thursday, March 30, 2017

Medical Researcher and St. Luke’s Chief Surgeon Warren Springer [otd 03/30]

Dr. Springer. J. H. Hawley photo.
Eminent Boise physician Warren David Springer was born March 30, 1864, near Toronto, Canada. He received a college degree and then went on to medical school at Trinity College in Toronto. After graduating with his medical degree, he took additional courses at the College of Physicians of Ontario.

Springer ran a practice near Toronto for a time and then moved to Ogden, Utah. After a relatively brief stay there, he opened a Boise office in 1892. Noted for his skill as a surgeon, Springer developed a thriving practice in Boise. According to Hawley's History, "He was, moreover, a close and discriminating student of the science of medicine and kept in touch with the latest researches and discoveries."

That interest worked both ways. Several Boise doctors, including Springer and his partner, are collectively credited with the first written, clinical description of "rocky mountain spotted fever." [Blogs, Aug 21 and Oct 16.] The reports detailed the typical symptoms: crushing headaches, “grievous” joint and muscle pain, and the characteristic red spots.

The physicians described the course of the disease, which can last up to two weeks after the appearance of the first definitive symptoms. In severe cases, convalescence may take weeks or months. They reported fairly low fatality rates among Idaho sufferers, perhaps due to mis-diagnosis. The symptoms resemble the more common typhus and not all patients develop the distinctive spots.

Overall, spotted fever killed as many as 25-30% of those infected before antibiotic treatments became available. (Fatalities still run 3-5%, being highest for older patients.)

Besides his private practice, Dr. Springer served as one of the physicians for the Idaho Soldiers’ Home [blog, May 23] in Boise. In 1898, Springer volunteered for service during the Spanish-American War. As regimental surgeon, Major Springer served in the Philippines with the First Idaho Regiment. Like the regiment, he returned to Idaho in September 1899.
St. Luke's horse-drawn ambulance. City of Boise.

Some time in 1900-1902, the Right Reverend James B. Funsten, Episcopal Bishop of Idaho, began to promote a new medical facility in Boise. Dr. Springer, “a close personal friend,” helped found St. Luke’s Hospital, which opened in 1902 as a modest cottage with six beds. Springer became the hospital’s Chief Surgeon, a position he held at the time of his death.

Dr. Springer served as Secretary of the Idaho board of Health for a time, and belonged to several national, state, and local medical societies. In 1903, he helped found the Boise Medical Association, an affiliate of the American Medical Association, and became its first Vice President. Springer was also elected to a term as Ada County Coroner. And, when the Boise City Council created the position of City Physician, they selected Warren to fill that slot (Idaho Statesman, September 11, 1900).

In 1907, Warren’s younger brother, John Scott Springer, joined his practice. John, also born in Canada, had practiced for a year in Emmett, Idaho, before spending eight months in an internship in Chicago.

Unfortunately, the brothers had little time together. In October, 1909, Warren died a day or so after suffering a major heart attack. The death of the relatively young, well-liked doctor prompted an outpouring of shock and grief. The Statesman noted (October 23, 1909) that “The casket … was literally buried in flowers.” Physician friends came from all over southwest Idaho and “The nurses of the city attended in a body.”
References: [Brit], [French], [Hawley]
“Boise (Idaho) Medical Association,” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 41, No. 11, American Medical Association, Chicago (Sept 12, 1903).
James F. Hammarsten, “The contributions of Idaho physicians to knowledge of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,” Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, Vol. 94 (1983) p. 27–43.

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