Marilyn Gaston

Marilyn Hughes Gaston was born in 1939 and first studied zoology at Miami University and then began her medical path by graduating from medical school at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1960 to pursue her path in pediatric medicine, but started practicing medicine in Lincoln Heights, Ohio. She was the only women of six and the only African American in her graduation class. Growing up it was difficult for her to achieve her aspirations of becoming a doctor, because she came from a poor family and was always faced with the fact that she was black. However, Gaston never let the fact that she was black, poor, and a woman keep her form following her dreams. She is most famous for her work, studying Sickle Cell Disease (SCD).

Early life

Marilyn Hughes Gaston was born in 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Gaston first graduated from Miami University in 1960 before she graduated from medical school in 1960 at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1964 where she then pursued her path in pediatric medicine. She was the only woman of six and the only African American in her graduating class. She finished her internship at Philadelphia General Hospital and completed her residency years in pediatric medicine at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center.[1] During Gaston’s childhood years it was hard for her to have great aspirations of becoming a doctor because she was always faced with the fact that she came from a less fortunate family and was faced with the lack of cultural sensitivity. Although, Gaston never let the fact that she was black, poor and a woman, keep her from following her dreams for becoming a doctor. She is now a successful pediatric doctor that continues to study and discover new treatments for Sickle Cell Disease. It has also been shown that she is very passionate about public health that is specifically targeted towards minorities and for individuals that are unable to pay for medical attention.[2]

Family and personal life

While growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, she lived in a three-room apartment in the public housing projects with her younger and older half-brother. Growing up money was very tight and at a frightening level to provide for her whole family. Gaston’s father, Myron Hughes, worked as a waiter while her mother, Dorothy Hughes, a Medical secretary. Even though her family did not have what a normal family would have, she wanted to ensure people that her childhood was filled with laughter and love. She received little encouragement to follow her dreams of becoming a doctor, because it would be a slim chance for her since her family would not be able to financially send and support her through medical school. The soul reason Gaston wanted to become a doctor, was to change the lives of so many individuals, due to her mother Dorothy Hughes.[1] When Gaston arrived at home one day she walked into her home to find her mother had collapsed on the ground. This was due to her battle with a horrible case of Cervical cancer. It was hard for Marilyn Gaston to watch her mother suffer through this life-threatening illness, knowing that she couldn’t do much to help ease her mother’s pain. Her family was poor, uninsured, and her mother would never receive the benefits of health care. All of these factors peaked her interest in going through the medical field because she does not want anyone else to suffer through a medical condition just because they simply cannot afford the medical bills or treatments.[2]

Gaston also worked to bring affordable health care to impoverished families and was the first black woman to direct a public health service bureau (Bureau of Primary Health Care in the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration) of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).[3]Through this program, with only a 5-million-dollar budget, she was able to bring impoverished families the opportunity to have access to medical workers, medical supplies, and the facilities that an average American is guaranteed. The program also granted medical care to elders, pregnant women, and new immigrants.[1]

Gaston received many awards in her lifetime, including the National Medical Association (NMA’s) Lifetime Achievement Award, every honor awarded by the Public Health Service, and even has Marilyn Hughes Gaston Day celebrated each year in Cincinnati and in Lincoln Heights, Ohio.

Work on Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)

While completing her internship at Philadelphia General Hospital she found her interest in studying more about Sickle Cell Disease when a baby was emitted into the emergency room. This child had a severely swollen hand and no detection of trauma. Gaston was told to run a blood test to check for Sickle Cell Disease, and sure enough, it was. The thought of running a blood test for Sickle Cell Disease never occurred in Gaston’s mind, so she became entrenched in learning all she could about this disease by working with the National Institutes for Health.[2] While proceeding with her study she discovered a revolutionary medical procedure in 1986 that would change the lives of potential infants that suffer from this disease. She found from her study that children need to be screened to see if they have this disease during their infant years, because if the child does test positive then by the time the child reaches four months of age they need to start prophylactic therapy while taking penicillin administered orally.[4] By taking penicillin it proves that it can prevent septic infection. This resulted in legislation by Congress for early SCD screenings, so treatment can begin right away.[3]


  1. Gaston, Marilyn. "Gaston, Marilyn Hughes".
  2. Gaston, Marilyn. "Marilyn Hughes Gaston". changing the face of medicine.
  3. "Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston". National Library of Medicine. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  4. Gaston, Marilyn (1986). "Prophylaxis with Oral Penicillin in Children with Sickle Cell Anemia". New England Journal of Medicine. 314 (25): 1593–1599. doi:10.1056/NEJM198606193142501. PMID 3086721.
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