Sign in or register
for additional privileges

The White Plague in the City of Angels

Caroline Luce, Author

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Key People - Practitioners

Dr. Sarah Vasen (1870-1944)
Dr. Sarah Vasen was born in Quincy, Illinois in 1870, to a father who had emigrated from Prussia and a mother who was born in Bohemia. Her parents had met while living in Philadelphia, and her mother had given birth to five of Vasen’s eight brothers before they moved to Quincy. The only girl among the Vasens' nine children, Sarah decided to study medicine to help women like her mother who spent the majority of their lives pregnant or raising babies. She enrolled in the Medical School at the University of Iowa, the first co-ed medical school in the country, choosing to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. After completing her degree, she served as resident physician and superintendent at the Jewish Maternity Home of Philadelphia, successfully fulfilling her ambition at the young age of thirty. After returning to Quincy for a few years, she decided to move to Watsonville, California, in 1904 to live with one of her brothers who had settled there. In 1905, she came to Los Angeles to serve as superintendent of Kaspare Cohn Hospital. [47]

Dr. Vasen left her post shortly after the hospital moved to Boyle Heights to attend to the birth of her brother’s first child and, upon returning to Los Angeles the following year, established her own private maternity practice on Temple Street. She later moved to Glendale, where she and her husband, Saul Frank, founded a Jewish school for children. Until she died in the 1940s, Vasen devoted herself to improving the lives of women and their children in Southern California. In an interview with historian Reva Clar, Dr. Vasen’s niece described her contributions:
Thus passed from the scene Los Angeles’ first Jewish woman physician – one of the first professionals engaged by the Jewish community and paid from community funds. These many years later it is a privilege to place her in her rightful niche in Los Angeles history, as a pioneer woman in the medical profession of the city, a participant in the beginning years of one of the country’s great medical centers, a contributor to Jewish welfare in the East and in the West, a woman of independence far ahead of her times, a devoted wife, a kind, generous, and modest woman. [48]
To read more about the life of Dr. Vasen, click here.

Dr. Jacob J. Singer
Dr. Jacob J. Singer was hired to be Cedars of Lebanon Hospital’s Senior Attending Physician in 1937. Dr. Singer was born in Leeds, England, to Russian Jewish parents and moved with his family to the St. Louis area at the age of three. After graduating high school in 1896, he began to save up money to attend Medical School, believing that medicine “offered a field for which my qualifications seemed best suited... these are my love for science, my desire to help those in distress, and my willingness to devote years to attain the goal.” He enrolled in Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, where he worked closely with Dr. Evarts A. Graham, a Bixby Professor of Surgery at Washington University. Graham had established “the first modern chest clinic” at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, where Singer and his mentor treated many sufferers of tuberculosis. Together, they pioneered several surgical strategies for treating the disease focused on removing the diseased lung tissue from the infected patient to stop the disease’s spread. They experimented with a popular treatment of the 1920 in which the diseased lung was collapsed and the patient’s breathing rerouted through a “pneumothroax device,” an artificial lung apparatus that served as a substitute air pump. They performed the first pneumonectomy (removal of an entire lung) of a lung cancer patient in 1933 and wrote a textbook together called “Surgical Diseases of the Chest” in 1935. Singer was also a tinkerer, experimenting with new technologies to better identify and diagnose lung diseases. He patented his own "Singer Stethoscope" in 1915 and pioneered devices for illuminating photographic negatives. [49]
In 1937, Singer moved to Los Angeles to teach medicine at the University of Southern California and was hired by Cedars of Lebanon to serve on its medical staff. He soon became the city’s leading lung specialist and served as the President of the Tuberculosis Section of the Los Angeles County Medical Society. In 1942, he was appointed as Medical Director at the City of Hope, helping both Cedars of Lebanon and the JCRA’s Sanatorium to becoming national leaders in the fight against tuberculosis. Dr. Singer helped to transform the way both institutions treated the disease and to situate the care of victims of tuberculosis among a broader spectrum of lung diseases. Unfortunately, Dr. Singer suffered a heart attack just months after the discovery of streptomycin, a viable cure for tuberculosis, and had retired from medicine before the curative regiment had been perfected. He died in 1954 and was honored at a memorial ceremony at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.

Dr. Karl Fischel
Born in Czechoslovakia, Fischel studied at the University of Prague in Vienna and conducted research on tuberculosis at the Davos Sanatorium and another cutting-edge facility in Grimmenstein, Austria. He then ran a large tuberculosis hospital in Vienna with some 500 beds before moving to San Francisco where he ran a private sanatorium there. In 1922, he was hired as Medical Director of the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association’s sanatorium in Duarte, replacing Dr. Joseph B. Fish. According to other members of the Sanatorium’s medical staff, Dr. Fish was “of the older school of thought” and “conservative” in his methods of treating tuberculosis. Dr. Fischel, by contrast, introduced “modern” methods of diagnosis and treatment at the Sanatorium, including three new medical procedures: pneumothorax (collapse of diseased tuberculosis lung tissue and use of exterior air pumping device), phrenicotomy (paralyzation of one side of diaphragm by cutting phrenic nerve), and thoracoplasty (collapse of diseased lung by removal of certain portions of the ribs). [50]

During Dr. Fischel’s first years of service between 1922 and 1923, these surgeries were conducted at hospitals near by in Pasadena, but when he returned in 1929, he helped to convince the Warner family - brothers Harry and Jack, their father, Benjamin, and sisters, Sadie and Rosa – to fund construction of a large Medical Building where the surgeries could be conducted on site. Dr. Fischel also helped to build a clinic at the Ex-Patients Home for “pre-institutional care” where the families of those being treated at the sanatorium could get routine exams, a program he designed to “attack the problem of childhood tuberculosis.” In his short tenure, Dr. Fischel’s efforts helped to raise the medical standards of the sanatorium and earn it a national reputation for its quality of care. He also served as the President of the Trudeau Tuberculosis Society of Los Angeles, and published several articles about the treatment of tuberculosis, including “Surgical Treatment of Tuberculosis Cavities,” (American Review of Tuberculosis, vol. XXVIII, no. 4 (Oct., 1933): 411-428) and “The Specific Treatment of Pulmonary Tuberculosis,” (American Review of Tuberculosis, vol. XVI, no. 2 (Aug., 1927): 210-219). [51]
Comment on this page

Discussion of "Key People - Practitioners"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Key People Path, page 4 of 4 Path end, return home