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Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp

Kay Hinton

Blazing Trails

Emory alumna Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp forges her own path, inspiring along the way

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By Kaitlyn Dennihy

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp 72M is no stranger to the road less traveled. She paved the way through segregation as the first African American student at Sweet Briar College, graduating in 1968; became the first African American woman to enroll in Emory’s School of Medicine, earning an MD in 1972; and is today at the forefront of developmental disabilities research.

As director of the Developmental Disabilities Branch of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Yeargin-Allsopp’s pathbreaking research recently earned her the Arnold J. Capute Award, sponsored by the Council on Children with Disabilities, recognizing “a physician who has made notable contributions to the health and well-being of children with disabilities through service and/or advocacy at the local, state, or national level.”

“Marshalyn is a rare individual who absolutely embodies the sentiments of the Capute Award,” says Barbara Stoll, pediatrics chair for the medical school.

Yeargin-Allsopp came to the CDC in 1981 as an epidemic intelligence officer and began work with the NCBDDD. She quickly realized that while birth defects were easy to track across the health records of children, even the most prevalent developmental disabilities— autism, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, and vision impairment—were not. Without a universal record for each child, Yeargin-Allsopp concluded that perhaps not every child was identified as having a disability, so she set out looking for answers. She began by going to local hospitals in metro Atlanta, choosing five Georgia counties, and measuring the prevalence of each disease in each area.

“True to my suspicions, rates for developmental disabilities did seem higher than had been previously recorded. This did not necessarily show that there was a great increase in the amount of cases, rather that many were lying undetected,” says Yeargin-Allsopp.

Her findings have been used in a variety of ways, including providing a basis for the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that all infants undergo a hearing screening. A growing network of eleven surveillance sites is implementing her methods across the country.

Recalling her time at Emory, Yeargin-Allsopp says, “I have much respect for the camaraderie I found among the eight female students and the four African American students in my medical school class.”

Kaitlyn Dennihy, a student at the University of Georgia, worked as an intern for the EAA this summer.

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