Beryl Benacerraf, 73, Dies; Pioneered the Use of Prenatal Ultrasound

Beryl Benacerraf, 73, Dies; Pioneered the Use of Prenatal Ultrasound

She completed a radiology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by a fellowship at Brigham and Women’s in ultrasound, which was then still a rudimentary discipline. She chose that field because she wanted to have children and did not want to be exposed to radiation.

After completing her fellowship and giving birth to a son and a daughter precisely a year apart, Dr. Benacerraf was unable to get a hospital job in Boston and opened her own practice there, Diagnostic Ultrasound Associates, in 1982.

In addition to her son and her husband, a cardiologist and a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Benacerraf is survived by her daughter, Brigitte Benacerraf Libby, and three grandchildren.

For 10 years after opening her practice, Dr. Benacerraf said in the oral history interview, she was effectively the only doctor in the Boston area who specialized in prenatal ultrasound. As a result, her practice grew quickly, as patients from around New England and beyond sought her out.

During this period she arrived at her finding relating to the nuchal fold, as well as discoveries about, among other things, the development of fetal hearing. In recent years she shifted her focus to gynecological imaging and conditions like endometriosis, pelvic pain and ovarian cancer.

In the course of her four-decade career, Dr. Benacerraf saw tens of thousands of patients while publishing hundreds of journal articles and several books. She also trained legions of doctors. One of them, Dr. Laura E. Riley, the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, described Dr. Benacerraf in an interview as “incredibly brilliant” and “a great teacher.”

She also called Dr. Benacerraf a “trailblazer” in using ultrasound in the service of women’s reproductive health — in most instances to reassure expectant mothers.

“Her diagnostic ability,” Dr. Riley added, “was second to none.”

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