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Dr. Colorado's new book chronicles the pulse of state's health care

Noel talks about Colorado's colorful medical history, from pioneer days to the state-of-the-art Anschutz Medical Campus

Dr. Tom Noel autographs a copy of his book about the history of the University of Colorado Hospital

By Chris Casey | University Communications

AURORA, Colo. - From the state's first doctor to the ailments of early settlers to the gleaming towers at the Anschutz Medical Campus, Tom "Dr. Colorado" Noel covered the colorful history of health care in Colorado on Tuesday.

Noel, professor of history at CU Denver, talked about his new book, "University of Colorado Hospital: A History," during a lunch-and-learn that drew about 25 people to the Health Sciences Library. Noel, Ph.D., went far beyond UCH's history, chronicling health care from the days of the Ute Indians and their kivas to the landmark decision to move the CU Health Sciences Center in Denver to the current Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

Scenes from Dr. Colorado's talk about his latest book:

Noel, Ph.D., explained that Denver in the early 1900s became of health care hub, thanks to the healing properties of its dry air for people suffering from tuberculosis, asthma and other respiratory ailments. "This is an unwritten part of Colorado history because I don't think people wanted to talk about it," Noel said. "The chamber of commerce people didn't want to talk about a town filled with people coughing, running around spitting up blood and what not."

He highlighted notable early Denver physicians, including Dr. John Elsner (founder of first county hospital in Colorado, what became Denver Health) and Dr. George Bancroft. "He was my kind of doctor," Noel said of Bancroft. "He prescribed eating more and drinking more."

Noel has direct ties to UCH and the CU School of Medicine. His mother graduated from the medical school in 1938 (only one other woman in her class) and his aunt became director of the hospital's social services department. "I interviewed a lot of people who knew either one of them," he said. "The book covers the whole campus and health care generally."

He also highlighted key benefactors, such as Fred G. Bonfils, who donated the land at 9th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard for the Health Sciences Center, and Denver businessman and philanthropist Philip Anschutz, whose family foundation has donated millions to the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Noel talked about pioneering physicians at UCH, including Dr. Henry Swan, founder of cardiac surgery and known for his hypothermia tub, and Dr. Thomas Starzl, who performed the world's first successful liver transplant.

"By far the biggest star to ever come out of this campus was Dr. Florence Sabin," Noel said. Sabin, born in Central City, was one of the first women to graduate from Johns Hopkins University and the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She was also the first Coloradan to be memorialized in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol; a replica of the statue currently sits in the reading room at Health Sciences Library.

"She passed the famous Sabin health laws, a legislative landmark which transforms Colorado from one of the least healthy, most scandalous states in the country, as far as health care is concerned, to one of the best," Noel said. "She had an incredible impact -- not just on science and medicine, but to health care generally."

Noel also highlighted some of the architectural marvels that stand at both the old Health Sciences Center campus and the Anschutz Medical Campus. He told the story about President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffering a heart attack in Colorado in 1955 and being taken to Fitzsimons Army Hospital, the present-day Building 500. Noel showed pictures of Eisenhower relaxing in a wheelchair on the roof of Fitzsimons as well as the room in which Eisenhower recovered.

"When (Fitzsimons Army Hospital) was built it was the largest building in Colorado, and probably one of the most stylish," Noel said.

Noel is the director of Public History and Preservation at CU Denver and co-director of the Center for Colorado and the West at Auraria Library. For a copy of his book, contact Noel at or

(Photo at top: CU Denver history Professor Tom Noel signs a copy of his book, "University of Colorado Hospital: A History," after his lunch-and-learn session on Aug. 13.)






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