International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Waldemar F Kirchheimer

    Status Medical Researcher, Physician
    Country Germany


    Dr Waldemar F Kirchheimer (1993-2001) was born in Schneidemuhl, Germany (now Pila, Weilkopolskie, Poland). He gained his medical degree at Ludwigs University, Medical Faculty, Giessen, Germany in 1937. Opposed to the Nazi government, he left Germany to fight against fascism in Spain. Fleeing Spain, he stowed away on a freighter not knowing where it was going. He arrived in Seattle, Washington, in 1938 and began work as a physician in the King County Tuberculosis hospital while living out of a houseboat. In 1947 he received a doctorate in microbiology at the University of Washington. He began researching tuberculin hypersensitivity. He joined the United States Public Health Service in 1961 as a scientific administrator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as part of the National Institutes of Health.

    In 1962 he went to Carville as the Chief of the Microbiology Research Section of the Laboratory Branch to work under George Fite. He was soon made the Chief of the Laboratory Research Branch. He authored or co-authored over 100 publications. He worked on leprosy transmission in arthropods, the cultivation of M. leprae in vitro, and most notably with Eleanor Storrs on the nine-banded armadillo to study transmission of M. leprae and the pathogenesis of leprosy (specifically nerve damage).

    Robert Hastings remembered him as a friend and mentor in 2001, writing:

    “In the more than 20 years that Wally and May resided on the station at Carville, they were widely appreciated as good neighbors and as charming and considerate hosts. On many occasions young leprosy physicians came to know established, visiting leprosy investigators at social gatherings in the Kirchheimers' living room, a room overlooked by an oil portrait over the couch of their much beloved, deceased dog, a Dachshund named "Heine." A number of these acquaintances flowered into international collaborative investigations among friends in later years.”

    Kirchheimer died on April 6, 2001.

    Extracted from Robert C Hastings. “Waldemar F. Kirchheimer, M.D., Ph.D. 1913-2001.” International Journal of Leprosy 69.3 (2001):253-4.

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