Being a woman in a man's world of medicine in the middle of the 20th century required a certain tough-as-nails approach, but the challenge was to simultaneously have a sincere compassion for sick children in need.
name: Hulda J. Wohltmann, M.D.
born: April 10, 1923
community: Isle of Palms
occupation: Pediatric endocrinologist, clinical researcher and professor with MUSC.
will be remembered for: Her gentleness and compassion when caring for her youth diabetic patients and their families, her steadfast nature and her iced coffee habit.
Memberships: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Diabetes Association.
Predeceased by: Parents John D. Wohltmann and Emma Mohrmann Wohltmann; sisters Elsa W. Coleman and Mildred W. Wells.
survivors include: Sister Lucille Hightower (Bill), Mount Pleasant; four nephews and six nieces.
Dr. Hulda J. Wohltmann embraced that challenge.
Wohltmann, a retired pediatric endocrinologist and professor, was a pioneer in the treatment of Type I diabetes at the Medical University of South Carolina.
She died at age 90 on Jan. 11.
"She worked so hard with children," said her younger sister, Lucy Hightower. "She wanted a cure for diabetes more than anything in the world. Medicine was her passion."
A native of Charleston, it wasn't an automatic assumption that Wohltmann would grow up and become a physician, much less with a specialty in pediatrics.
"That was a shock to all of us," Hightower said. "She took scientific classes in high school, but (we) never had a clue that she would end up in medicine."
After her graduation with honors from the College of Charleston in 1940, she received a scholarship to further her studies in biochemistry. She was the first female student from the college to be awarded the scholarship in scientific research. Hightower believes that was the key moment in solidifying Wohltmann's career perspective.
Wohltmann went to medical school at the Medical College of South Carolina (now MUSC) at a time when women were not accepted in medicine, Hightower said, and their mother wondered who would want a woman doctor. But Wohltmann "was very determined, which I suppose she had to be," she said. "She was amazing. She was what she was and you could take it or leave it."
"Her tenacity was without measure," her niece, Anne H. White, wrote in her eulogy. "She was fiercely independent."
Wohltmann's resolve and self-motivation got her to a place of excellence, being one of six MUSC faculty members listed in "The Best Doctors in the U.S." list by John Pekhanen in 1981. In keeping with her track record, she was the only female of the six honorees.
She was a key player in introducing a landmark treatment trial at MUSC in 1983, which has since been adopted in many states across the country. The clinical trial revolved around pediatric patients with Type I diabetes who were given intense insulin treatment, with the expectation that the more intensive treatment early on would prevent later health complications, according to Dr. Maria F. Lopes-Virella, a professor of medicine in the endocrinology division of MUSC and a research colleague of Wohltmann's.
There was so much improvement in the patients that the initial trial ended after seven years and her published results were important for future treatment plans and (anticipation of) problems down the road, Lopes-Virella added. "She contributed a lot to the state by taking care of the patients the way she did."
Wohltmann received numerous awards and recognitions throughout her career, including the Special Award for Continuous Dedicated Service to S.C. Children with Diabetes from the S.C. Diabetes Association in 1989.
"She wasn't exactly a mild type," said Lopes-Virella, "She had her convictions and she stuck to them."
In White's eulogy, she told a story of Wohltmann and Hightower as children, disagreeing over the true meaning of a particular word. Hightower produced a dictionary, therefore "proving" that her definition was the correct one, to which Wohltmann replied that sometimes even dictionaries were wrong. "She had an answer for everything," Hightower said.
In contrast to her steadfastness, Wohltmann had "a very soft heart," said Hightower. "She had a real soft spot for people in need and would always do what she could."
"She was a very caring physician (and had) a tremendous affinity and rapport with her patients," Lopes-Virella said. "(They) loved her to death. They were her friends."
On the guest book page of Wohltmann's online obituary, a former patient said that she was like a mother to him, and if it hadn't been for her, he wouldn't have made it to his kidney transplant several decades later. "It really touched me that he took the time to say that," Hightower said. "That brought tears to my eyes."
Other comments from patients, colleagues and friends on several memorial pages to Wohltmann include the words kind, generous, dedicated and inspiring.
A former student called her an encourager, supporter and a lover of children and said that "she also taught me how important it is to love and to care and to comfort."
Hightower summed up her older sister with a simple statement: "She was really quite a person."
Reach Liz Foster at 937-5581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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