NPR joins the audiology world in celebrating the life of Marion Downs

David Kirkwood
December 30, 2014


DENVER—As 2014 drew to a close, National Public Radio paid tribute to the late Dr. Marion Downs as someone whose life’s story deserved to be better known than it had been.

Photo of Marion Downs and a young patient courtesy of the Marion Downs Center.

Photo of Marion Downs and a young patient courtesy of the Marion Downs Center.

On the December 28 broadcast of the program All Things Considered, the NPR reporter Becky Sullivan noted that until the past 20 years or so babies who were born with hearing loss were unlikely to be identified until a year or two later. Sullivan explained, “A diagnosis that late meant many deaf children never fully developed the ability to use language.” However, she added, “Today, things are drastically different for hard-of-hearing children, thanks to the efforts of a remarkable woman named Dr. Marion Downs.”

Of course, the extraordinary life and career of Marion Downs, who died on November 13 at the age of 100, have received much deserved attention from publications that cover audiology, including in a number of posts at



Next Friday evening (January 9), the Marion Downs Foundation will hold a Celebration of Life for the friends and family of Marion Downs, which will be held at the Pinnacle Club at the Grand Hyatt Denver.

The foundation is dedicated to honoring the legacy of the “mother of pediatric audiology” through the programs and services of the Marion Downs Center in Denver. Those wishing to support these efforts are invited to make donations to the Marion Downs Foundation via web site; by mail at 4280 Hale Parkway, Denver, CO 80220; or by phone at 303/322-1871.



In its tribute to Dr. Downs, probably the first  by a general interest national news medium since her death, NPR described her “as a woman in a field dominated by men and a mother surrounded by audiologists who insisted it made no difference whether hearing loss was detected at birth or years into a child’s life. Downs didn’t believe that, but it would be decades before research proved her right.”

Becky Sullivan told how in the early 1960s, Marion Downs ignored the prevailing belief among the experts that hearing loss could not be identified or treated in infancy. Sullivan said, “Downs started testing newborns herself with horns and rattles. For decades, she traveled to pediatricians and audiologists across the country, urging them to screen newborns. Eventually, technology was developed that made universal screening easier and more affordable.”

Christine Yoshinaga-Itano

Christine Yoshinaga-Itano

For her story, Sullivan interviewed Jerry Northern, PhD, and Christine Yoshinaga-Itano, PhD, who both worked closely with Downs and contributed greatly to advancing the field of pediatric audiology and making universal newborn hearing screening a reality.

Jerry Northern

Jerry Northern

Sullivan closed her report with Marion Downs’s words, recorded during a 2011 interview on Colorado Public Radio when she was 97 years old. She told the interviewer, “I got a letter just recently from a 50-year-old man who said, ‘I thank you for having identified me at birth as having a hearing loss and being deaf. Because I’ve done very well.’”

So did she, as audiology and, increasingly, the rest of the world would agree.



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