Charles Everett Koop Biography (1916-)

pediatric surgeon; former U.S. Surgeon General

Charles Everett Koop (known as C. Everett Koop) was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 14, 1916. As a pun on his last name (Koop/coop), Koop was nicknamed Chick. Koop displayed an early interest in medicine, sneaking into Columbia Presbyterian Hospital at the age of 15 in order to observe abdominal surgery. He was also known to anesthetize neighborhood cats with ether in order to perform surgery on them and practice stitching them up.

At only 16 years of age, Koop began classes at Dartmouth College, graduatingwith a B.A. degree in 1937. By 1941, Koop had received his M.D. from CornellMedical College. He trained in pediatrics at Pennsylvania Hospital, continuing on in pediatric surgery at University of Pennsylvania School of medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, and the Graduate School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Koop earned an Sc.D degree in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1947.

In 1948, when Koop became surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, pediatric surgery was still a relatively new field. Koop was one of thefirst physicians in the country to commit his entire practice to pediatric surgery. He worked hard to improve the then-dismal mortality rates associatedwith surgery on children. Koop established excellent practices of pre- and post-surgical care, which greatly reduced post-operative mortality rates. He also established a number of innovative surgical and diagnostic procedures. Heworked to refine anesthesia practices for pediatric patients, improving bothits safety and its efficacy. Some of his more well-known surgeries included the reconstruction of the chest of a baby whose heart had been outside its body at birth, and the separation of several different sets of Siamese (conjoined) twins.

Koop's career followed a very successful trajectory, and he moved quickly through the faculty ranks at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine,becoming professor of pediatric surgery at the School of Medicine in 1959 andat the Graduate School of Medicine in 1960. In 1971, he was appointed professor of pediatrics.

Koop's entree into a very visible public life came in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan chose him as surgeon general. Confirmation hearings were controversial, as liberals opposed his unmoving stance against abortion. He was perceived as dangerously conservative. Still, he was confirmed in Novemberof 1981, and sworn in on January 21, 1982.

In Koop's tenure as surgeon general, he proved himself to be an outspoken advocate of public health. He lectured the nation about the medical dangers associated with tobacco (an unpopular issue with his conservative supporters). Koop compared nicotine addiciton with addiction to cocaine and heroine. He supported a ban on smoking in the workplace, and spoke out frankly against the practice of exporting tobacco products to developing nations. He supported banson alcohol advertising. He tried to encourage Americans to become more mindful of their diet, decreasing fat and sugar and increasing fiber and complex carbohydrates.

Koop also continued to draw some liberal fire, by supporting the "squeal rule," which mandated that health officials were obligated to contact parents iftheir children wanted to acquire contraceptives.

Koop had an important role in moving the nation out of silence about the AIDSepidemic. In 1996, he wrote a long report, in which he advocated educating children about the dangers of AIDS, supplying adults with condoms, allowing pregnant women with AIDS to obtain abortions, and speaking out against requiring AIDS testing. Again, his conservative backers were disappointed in him, buthis previous liberal opponents were pleased. Koop tried to explain himself to both groups, saying "We are fighting a disease, not a people" and "You mayhate the sin, but love the sinner."

Koop decided not to serve a second term as surgeon general, resigning as of October 1989. Some believe that his resignation stemmed from pressure from various friends who felt that Koop had strayed too far from conservative ideals.

Koop went to Dartmouth College, this time as a faculty member. He helped to establish the C. Everett Koop Institute, where he serves as Senior Scholar. Koop continues to travel around the nation speaking on issues of public health.

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