Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Medical Pioneer and Tuberculosis Researcher Edwin Guyon [otd 11/07]

On November 7, 1853, physician and medical pioneer Edwin F. Guyon was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. By one account, his father was among the nearly 13 thousand yellow fever deaths (ten percent of the population) in New Orleans during the period 1853-1855. In 1855, his mother relocated the family to California, where she remarried.

They soon moved to Oregon and, when Edwin was about twelve, his stepfather went into cattle ranching. As a young man, Guyon became a successful small rancher himself, but also nurtured a desire to become a physician. After schooling at Walla Walla College (now University), he attended the University of Cincinnati. He attained his M.D. there in 1891, spent a year in post-doctoral studies, and then started practicing in Pendleton, Oregon.
Montpelier, ca. 1910. Personal Collection.

In 1896, he moved to Montpelier, Idaho and opened a practice there. Four years later, he took a position with a coal company in Wyoming, where he stayed until 1903. During the period from 1897 through 1903, he also served as a surgeon for the Oregon Short Line Railroad. He then returned to Montpelier.

Aside from his practice, Guyon served as chairman of the Montpelier city council in 1910-1911, and also became involved in statewide medical matters. He served on the state Board of Medical Examiners and authored the Idaho law that prohibited "illegal" (presumably, unlicensed) medical practice. He co-authored a similar law in Oregon.

One of Dr. Guyon’s primary interests was the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis. At that time, the disease was “the leading cause of death for all age groups” in the United States. The most common treatment, for those who could afford it, was isolation in a sanitarium, where the patients exercised mildly in the fresh air, rested, and were fed a balanced, nutritious diet.

At the time, the high, dry climate of the Mountain West was viewed as an ideal location for TB sanatariums. Colorado, with its abundant sunshine, became a particular destination of choice. Thus, in 1911, Dr. Guynon traveled to a tuberculosis conference in Denver as an official representative of the Idaho medical community
President Taft. Library of Congress.

The following year, he was selected as one of just five Idaho representatives at the International Congress on Hygiene and Demography. That meeting was then the preeminent research conference in the area of public health: The New York Times noted that the Congress was meeting “on American soil for the first time in the three-quarters of a century of its existence.” U. S. President William Howard Taft, serving as honorary chairman, delivered the opening address.

As part of its lead, The Times noted that one Dr. Peyton Rous of New York’s Rockefeller Institute had discovered a cancerous agent that “rapidly transmitted the growth of malignant tumors in chickens.” This was one of the earliest reports on the research that won Dr. Rous the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1966.

Guyon served on several national and international physicians’ committees while continuing his practice in Montpelier. His own medical research accomplishments, while more modest, earned him, in historian French’s words, a “state-wide, even national, reputation for his interest and his labors in the direction of checking and stamping out tuberculosis.”

In 1920, the Montpelier school district began requiring physical exams for children entering school that year. Dr. Guyon chaired the committee of physicians who had volunteered to do the exams. Guyon continued to practice in Montpelier until the early Thirties, when he moved to Pocatello. He passed away there in January of 1934.
References: [French], [Illustrated-State]
Albert Hassell (ed.), Transactions of the Fifteenth International Congress on Hygiene and Demography (September 23-28, 1912).
“Reveal New Means of Fighting Disease,” The New York Times (September 24, 1912).
“Yellow Fever Deaths in New Orleans, 1817-1905,” New Orleans Public Library (online).

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