When Carolyn R. Denning, M.D., published her first article on cystic fibrosis (CF) in 1958, those diagnosed with the disease rarely lived to enter puberty. Now, after her forty-year career devoted to the illness, 38.7 percent of those with CF in the United States are eighteen years or older. Many of the strides in life expectancy and quality of life are due to the tireless efforts of Dr. Denning and others who have spent their lives working to understand cystic fibrosis and treat those patients diagnosed with the disease.
Carolyn Denning graduated from Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1952. Following a residency in pediatrics, she completed a research fellowship in cystic fibrosis and celiac disease at Babies Hospital. During and after her fellowship there, Dr. Denning was fortunate to work with Dr. Dorothy H. Andersen, the first physician to describe cystic fibrosis as a disease. After twenty years of service at Babies Hospital, Dr. Denning went to St. Vincent's where she spent the second half of her career in practice.
Throughout her New York City-based career, she focused on all aspects of cystic fibrosis and its treatment. She conducted research, wrote and spoke on cystic fibrosis issues including tooth discoloration, metabolism, pulmonary hypertension, saliographic studies, and psychological and social aspects of the disease. As director of the Cystic Fibrosis and Pediatric Pulmonary Disease Centers at both Babies Hospital of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center, she was the first CF center director in the nation to organize and initiate a multidisciplinary team approach to management.
"My office visits," she said, "are conducted in a private setting with no interruptions by telephone or office personnel with a one-hour minimum allotted to each patient. I am realistic yet optimistic, stressing the importance of hope. I am current on research activities in the field as well as other important relevant events. I follow through on all matters pertaining to the patient and his office visit and I am available by telephone at all times. I put great stress on personal integrity, ethics and moral beliefs. As director of a large, multi-disciplinary group of health professionals, I have worked hard to choose people who share the same philosophy."
During her career, Dr. Denning taught clinical pediatrics at Columbia University, at New York University School of Medicine, and at New York Medical College. She was the first woman to serve on Columbia's admissions committee in the 1970s. She was also the first woman to chair the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Medical Advisory Council, served as president and on the board of trustees. Dr. Denning also was a member of the Society for Pediatric Research, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Thoracic Society.