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Donald Benson, a chief of anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins, was born in Jamestown, New York. He attended North Park Junior College, the University of Illinois, and the University of Notre Dame before serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war, he attended the University of Chicago and earned his M.D. in 1950. Following his internship in Buffalo, New York at Millard Fillmore Hospital, and his residency in anesthesiology at the University of Chicago Clinics, Benson remained at the University of Chicago as a faculty member in anesthesiology and as a graduate student in pharmacology. He completed his Ph.D. in pharmacology in 1957.

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In 1956, Benson was recruited to be an associate professor of anesthesiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and anesthesiologist-in-charge at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was promoted to professor of anesthesiology in 1959. Benson helped to establish a full-fledged residency program in anesthesiology.

Benson did much to introduce the use of ventilators into surgery and clinical care. While at Chicago, he had become familiar with long-term respirators and had worked with a colleague to develop a unique positive-pressure ventilator. Benson was able to bring some of these new ventilators with him to Johns Hopkins and found use for them in heart operations and other extensive surgery.

He played a significant role in the development of a surgical intensive care unit. He began his drive for an intensive care unit in the early 1960s, but it was almost a decade before it became a reality. He also worked closely with William Kouwenhoven and James Jude in the development of closed-chest cardiac resuscitation.

By the late 1960s, anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins, under Benson’s leadership, had matured and several subspecialties had evolved. In recognition of his many contributions to the field, he was elected director of the American Board of Anesthesia.

In 1974, Benson left Johns Hopkins to become professor and chairman of the anesthesiology department at the University of Chicago, where he remained until his death.

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Scope and Content

The Donald W. Benson Collection includes a personal memoir of his work at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Letters of condolence from his colleagues sent to his family, certificates from the American Board of Anesthesiology and some news clippings are also part of the collection.

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