Rediscover STEAM
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Rediscover STEAM

Angella Dorothea Ferguson, Pioneer in Sickle Cell Anemia Research & Pediatrician

Angella Dorothea Ferguson was born in Washington, D.C. on February 15, 1925. She was one of eight children born to parents George Alonzo Ferguson and Mary Burton Ferguson. Her father was a man of many talents: a high school teacher, a United States Army reservist, and the owner of an architectural firm.

Today, Dr. Ferguson is an American pediatrician best known for her groundbreaking research on the development of sickle cell disease in African American newborn children and invention of a blood test that can detect the disease at birth. The test was put forth in forty states and facilitated development of the clinical guidelines for diagnosing and treating sickle cell anemia.

In her youth, she attended Cardoza High School, where she first discovered her passion for chemistry and mathematics. Wanting to remain close to home, Ferugson decided to study biology at Howard University. After graduating in 1945, she went straight into medical school at Howard and studied pediatrics, and in 1949, she graduated.

However, her relationship with Howard University did not stop there; she worked at Howard University School of Medicine as a researcher. A vital part of her initial research involved comprehending typical development of African American children, yet surprisingly, no such baseline data existed. With further study, Ferguson noticed a high percentage of African American children suffered from sickle cell anemia. In sickle cell anemia, red platelets become deformed (sickled) and die early, leaving a deficiency of sound red blood cells, and buildups of sickled cells can block flow of the bloodstream, posing great danger to the patient’s health.

Ferguson set guidelines for diagnosing sickle cell anemia in children under the age of 12 using closely monitored blood tests. She suggested children under the age of 5 with the condition drink a glass of water per day, so that blood volume would increase and the deformed platelets could flow through the bloodstream with less complications. Ferugson also recommended expanded oxygen during a medical procedure for patients having sickle cell anemia to help avoid infection and other unwanted side effects.

She completed her residency in 1953 at Washington Freemans Hospital and shortly afterward, opened her own private pediatric practice in Washington, D.C., where she realized she could not answer most of her black patients’ parents because most of her research was focused on children of European descent and became motivated to study and track the development of sickle cell anemia in African American infants. In 1953, she became an instructor in pediatrics at Howard University, and in 1959, she served as assistant professor of pediatrics at Freedman’s Hospital before her promotion to a full professor in 1963. In 1970, she became the head of Howard’s University Office of Health Affairs and was promoted in 1979 to the second in command for Health Affairs, a post she held until her retirement in 1990. Ferguson received authentications of legitimacy twice for her work from the American Medical Association, and her record of administration in the field of pediatrics traversed over 45 years.

by Galiba Anjum

References

Secret Charles-Ford. “Angella Dorothea Ferguson (1925- ).” Blackpast.Org, 26 Dec. 2019, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/people-african-american-history/angella-dorothea-ferguson-1925/. Accessed 17 Aug. 2020.

“Ferguson, Angella Dorothea.” Oxford African American Studies Center, 2020, oxfordaasc.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.001.0001/acref-9780195301731-e-36798. Accessed 17 Aug. 2020.

‌“Forgotten Women in STEM: Angella Dorothea Ferguson.” KMESH, KMESH, 30 Nov. 2016, https://kmeshan.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/forgotten-women-in-stem-angella-dorothea-ferguson/. Accessed 17 Aug. 2020.

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Rediscover STEAM sheds light on the stories of underrepresented women throughout history and aims to empower the next generation of female change-makers.

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