Celeste Woodward

[ Age 94 ] Baltimore doctor fluent in 6 languages traveled the world on humanitarian missions to care for the ill.

November 04, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Dr. Celeste L. Woodward, a Baltimore physician who volunteered to treat civilian casualties during the Vietnam War and worked in numerous humanitarian refugee medical assistance efforts, died Thursday of complications from old age at her Roland Park home. She was 94.

Born Celeste Lauve in Upper Montclair, N.J., she spent her adolescence in France and Switzerland, and was educated at 29 convent and boarding schools because her parents traveled widely. She became fluent in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Urdu.

"She always said she never flunked out of any of them," said her daughter, Dr. Celeste Woodward Applefeld, a retired Baltimore pediatrician.

Dr. Woodward received her bachelor's degree cum laude from the Universite d'Aix-Marseilles. She was given a scholarship to the Universite de Lyons, but her application to its medical school was rejected because it did not admit women.

Her family returned to the United States in 1934, and she entered the Class of 1938 at the University of Maryland School of Medicine as one of four female students. She and another medical student, Theodore Woodward, began dating during their third year. They were married three weeks after graduation. The next week, she began an internship at what was then Baltimore City Hospitals, according to a University of Maryland biography.

She practiced at St. Agnes Hospital and was a quarantine officer at the Baltimore City Health Department.

Her husband, who went on to become a University of Maryland medical educator who was nominated for the Nobel Prize for his work in the field of infectious diseases, made a trip in the 1960s to West Pakistan, where he found a need for physicians and dermatologists. He died in 2005.

She accompanied her husband to West Pakistan in 1964 and taught at the Fatima Jinnah Medical College. She saw patients in Lahore and studied the incidence of skin disease for the National Institutes of Health, the biography stated.

"Dad was going as a visiting professor, and she wanted to go and use her medical knowledge," Dr. Applefeld said.

Her trip to West Pakistan was the first of her six medical trips overseas. In 1968 -- when she was 56 -- she and 11 other physicians spent five months in South Vietnam treating civilians during the war under the aegis of the American Medical Association and a group called the Volunteer Physicians for Vietnam.

"They have no conception how to prevent tuberculosis," she told a Sun reporter in 1968. "They don't think anything of spitting up blood." She also found numerous cases of malaria and typhoid.

"The energetic doctor ran the pediatric and isolation wards at a 300-bed hospital at Nha Trang on the South China Sea," the Sun's article said. "Most patients slept on mats covered with oilcloth. The only bedsheets in the hospital were in the operating room."

She was paid $10 a day while in Vietnam and lost 20 pounds.

"We weren't allowed in the hospital after 7 p.m. because they had occasions when the Viet Cong tried to shanghai doctors," she told The Sun.

When she was not overseas, Dr. Woodward taught as an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and volunteered there for 13 years.

In 1979 and 1980, Dr. Woodward traveled to Thailand under the direction of the American Refugee Committee of Minneapolis.

Her final trip to Asia was to the southeastern area of Thailand along the Cambodian border. There she treated refugees, North and South Vietnamese army personnel, and Cambodians fleeing Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, her biography said.

"On her worst day there, Dr. Woodward saw three of her patients, all children, die," said a 1980 Sun article.

Dr. Woodward belonged to the Alliance Francaise. She read extensively and knitted.

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Scared Heart, Smith Avenue, Mount Washington.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include two sons, Dr. William E. Woodward, who does hospice work and lives in Oxford, and Dr. R. Craig Woodward, an internist, of Atlanta; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Another son, Lewis O. Woodward, died in 1955.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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