Mary Virginia Neal

[ Age 89 ] Nurse was an innovator in the care of pre-term babies.

October 24, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Mary Virginia Neal, a retired University of Maryland nursing educator honored by her profession for her contributions to infant care, died of cancer Oct. 11 at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Homeland resident was 89.

Born in Frostburg, she graduated from Beall High School and attended Frostburg State Normal School until she could start nursing training at age 18 at Cumberland's Memorial Hospital. She earned her diploma in 1940 and later earned a bachelor's degree in education at the University of Maryland, College Park, a master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh and a nursing doctorate at New York University.

A pediatric instructor and supervisor at Memorial Hospital in Cumberland in 1941 and 1942, Dr. Neal served in the Army as a captain in Iceland and England during World War II. She was a head nurse aboard the converted troopship Queen Mary.

After the war, Dr, Neal returned to Cumberland and then worked for the Red Cross in Pennsylvania and Hawaii, where she nursed the injured and tended the homeless after a volcanic eruption. In 1955, she joined the National League of Nursing in New York City and worked on her doctorate.

"At NYU," said one of her students, Dr. Barbara Medoff-Cooper, "Dr. Neal was the first nurse to combine the nursing and bioengineer disciplines to meet the needs of patients. In this case, the patients were very fragile pre-term infants, with poor rates of mortality and morbidity."

Dr. Neal suggested that if she rocked these infants systematically, just as they are rocked in utero, that they should grow and thrive better than in the standard crib or early incubator. In the 1960s, she continued her research at Cornell Hospital-New York Hospital and received a patent on a rocking canvas hammock whose motor she improvised from a toy.

"When I grew up, if you didn't have something or lack the money to buy something, you made it," Dr. Neal said in a scientific article.

Her studies showed that the mechanically rocked premature infants demonstrated fewer medical abnormalities.

"She was determined and goal-oriented," said her sister, Nancy Loubell Neal of Baltimore. "She taught her students to be that way."

Dr. Neal went on to direct the undergraduate nursing program at Adelphi University, and in 1968 she joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore, where she became the chairwoman of the department of maternal and child health in 1972. In 1977, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, and in 1996, that organization named her a Living Legend.

She retired in 1983 and the University of Maryland named a research award for her. She served on nursing boards and was a tour leader at the nursing school's museum.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

In addition to her sister, survivors include nieces and nephews.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.