Who Is Walter Reed? The Hospital Is Named For A Pathology Pioneer

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On Monday, the White House announced in a statement that First Lady Melania Trump underwent surgery for a benign kidney condition. The procedure was performed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which is located in Bethesda, Maryland. The hospital, which routinely treats military members, as well as members of the executive branch, Congress, and the Supreme Court, is named after a man known for his work researching yellow fever. But, who is Walter Reed?

In short: The late U.S. Army pathologist and bacteriologist helped medical professionals learn how to tackle a viral disease that can sometimes be fatal.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Reed is known primarily for conducting experiments that eventually helped to prove that yellow fever was spread by mosquito bites. Up until the end of the 19th century, the fever was believed to spread by objects and articles used by those infected, like bedding or clothing.

However, Reed's medical research wasn't his only connection to the hospital that would eventually take his name. According to the medical center's website, Reed was friends with an official who lobbied to open the hospital at all, insisting at the time that an older medical facility needed to be replaced. That man's name was Major William C. Borden, and he was the commander of the Army General Hospital. The two men met while teaching at the Army Medical School, according to the hospital's website. After Reed's death in 1902, Borden worked to see the new facility built, and to name it after his late friend.

Throughout his life, Reed moved around constantly. Growing up, his father was a Methodist minister who changed parishes every one or two years. Despite all the commotion, Reed matriculated at the University of Virginia at just 15 years old. Two years later, he earned the first of the two medical degrees he would hold in his lifetime.

If the rest of his life was any indication, it seemed that his childhood of constant change and motion affected the decisions he made as an adult. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Reed opted out of the general practice option, choosing instead to pursue a career in the military. For nearly two decades, Reed and his wife, Emilie Lawrence, whom he married in 1876, moved homes regularly. His life by and large demonstrated a medical professional eager to constantly learn and expand research in his field.

As for Melania Trump's treatment at the hospital, very little is publicly known about her situation. The White House statement on the topic, released Tuesday, was direct and to the point. It read as follows:

This morning, First Lady Melania Trump underwent an embolization procedure to treat a benign kidney condition. The procedure was successful and there were no complications. Mrs. Trump is at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and will likely remain there for the duration of the week. The First Lady looks forward to a full recovery so she can continue her work on behalf of children everywhere.

Shortly after 4 p.m., President Trump announced via tweet that he would shortly be visiting his wife. Until then, the White House statement was the Executive Branch's only formal recognition of the first lady's surgery. "Heading over to Walter Reed Medical Center to see our great First Lady, Melania," Trump wrote. "Successful procedure, she is in good spirits. Thank you to all of the well-wishers!"

CNN reported that Melania Trump's surgery marked the first major medical procedure undergone by a U.S. first lady since Nancy Reagan. Back in 1987, Reagan had a mastectomy, removing her left breast, which was described at the time as "cancerous" in The New York Times.