Dr. Marion P. Downs, an innovator in the field of pediatric audiology and a tireless advocate for the early identification of hearing loss, passed away on November 13th, 2014. During her extraordinary career at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Dr. Downs developed and evaluated techniques for testing hearing in babies and young children and for fitting them with hearing aids. Dr. Downs created the first universal infant hearing-screening program in 1963 in Denver, CO. She relentlessly pursued making the identification and management of hearing loss in infants and children an important medical, educational, and public health issue. Her professional publications and lectures brought worldwide attention to the importance of early intervention for hearing loss. Today, in the United States, more than 96% of all infants born in the US receive a newborn hearing screening thanks largely to her efforts. Numerous international countries have followed her lead in establishing universal infant hearing screening programs.
Dr. Downs was an exemplary teacher who lectured extensively throughout the United States and foreign countries. She published nearly 100 articles and books on various aspects of audiology, including serving as co-author with Jerry Northern of Hearing in Children, a preeminent textbook updated through five editions between 1972 and 2002 and translated into several foreign languages. A new 6th edition of Hearing in Children was published this year by Plural Publishing.
She almost single-handedly alerted the medical world to the speech, language, and development problems associated with childhood hearing loss. In order to ensure that pediatric hearing loss would remain a priority concern for all pediatric health care professionals, Dr. Downs proposed in 1969 that a national committee be established, comprised of representatives from professional hearing healthcare organizations, to periodically review and evaluate, and recommend “best practices” approaches to newborn hearing screening programs. As a direct result of her visionary thinking, the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing was organized to provide multi-disciplinary leadership and guidance for 45 years in all areas of newborn and infant hearing issues.
She has received an extensive array of awards recognizing her contributions throughout her career. Among her many honors are: the Outstanding Achievement Award from her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, and Gold Medal Recognition from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She is the recipient of three Honorary Doctorate Degrees. Dr. Downs has been awarded the Medal of the Ministry of Health of South Vietnam. She has been recognized with honors of nearly every professional hearing-related society including the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Society. She was a founder of the American Auditory Society and the International Audiology Society. She was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2006 and in 2007 she received the Secretary’s Highest Recognition Award from the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Marion was an avid exercise enthusiast and won five gold medals for tennis in the US National Senior Games playing through her 8th decade. She used her wit and inspirational advice on living vigorously into her nineties to author a popular book titled, Shut Up and Live.
Marion was loved and revered by countless colleagues, former students and patients, as well as friends around the world. The Marion Downs Foundation will have a celebration of Marion’s life on Friday, January 9, 2015 for friends and family. To those interested in making tributes in honor of Marion, her family respectfully requests that you make a donation to the Marion Downs Foundation via their website at www.mariondowns.com, or by mail at 4280 Hale Parkway, Denver, CO 80220.
Written by Dr. Jerry Northern.