W. Merrill Carter's Story

W. Merrill CarterFor W. Merrill Carter, a lifetime of shaping the futures of young people may have been cut short if not for the treatment he received at National Jewish Health – where his life would be saved not once, but twice.

In the fall of 1951, Merrill was a student at the University of Houston. He was “killing time” in downtown Houston while he waited to go to the movies when he decided to receive a tuberculosis screening at a mobile unit. A few days later, he received the shocking news that he had tested positive for tuberculosis.

Rather than seek treatment in his home state of Texas, where “the sanatoriums had a negative reputation,” Merrill’s uncle, who was a physician, recommended National Jewish Health, which was “the best in the U.S. at the time.”

During that time tuberculosis was rampant, and Merrill waited nine months before receiving an appointment at National Jewish Health in 1953. The timing of his appointment was fortuitous – it coincided with National Jewish Health’s development of a new protocol for treating tuberculosis patients. Combined drug therapy and early ambulation (walking) eventually became the standard treatment nationwide.

National Jewish Health’s legacy of pioneering innovations in the research and treatment of tuberculosis continues. Today, resistance to traditional tuberculosis treatments presents the biggest threat to patients and is on the rise across the globe. Our researchers have identified new therapies for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis that help our patients and countless others worldwide.

Merrill spent nine months undergoing inpatient care at National Jewish Health. “My entire being was treated, not just my body.” He recalls the excellent care he received from the staff and the strong bonds that he shared with the other 300 patients. “It was a community unto itself” with a rich social life and even a patient newspaper, of which Merrill served as the editor. Patients were encouraged to strengthen their minds, and he took a class in shorthand at the hospital. Merrill also taught a class in key punch, an early data processing and storage device.

After being declared cured, Merrill returned to Houston to resume his life and his studies. Unfortunately, in 1955 he learned that the tuberculosis had returned and he immediately came back to National Jewish Health.

During his treatment, he took classes at the University of Denver and earned his teaching degree. This time, after undergoing drug therapy and surgery, Merrill was permanently cured of tuberculosis. He and his wife decided to stay in Denver and make their life here.

Merrill worked in the Denver Public Schools as an English teacher for more than 30 years, where he received several awards for excellence in teaching. Now retired, he and his wife travel the world, with plans to visit China later this year – but he says none of it would have been possible without National Jewish Health.

“There is no doubt that I would have died from tuberculosis without National Jewish Health. They saved my life twice and allowed me to live a full life,” he said.

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