The Vatican announced a major step forward in the cause of canonization of Jerome Lejeune, the French doctor who discovered the genetic cause for Down syndrome, on January 21 this year.
The date was significant for Aude Dugast, the postulator of that cause. Twenty-one is a significant number when you’re speaking of Down syndrome, which is caused by a third chromosome on the 21st pair of chromosomes.
That’s why March 21 — 3/21 — was the date chosen for World Down Syndrome Day.
Lejeune’s work in genetics certainly had a focus on numbers like that. But for Lejeune, his patients were anything but mere numbers.
“His first place was with his patients,” said Dr. Pilar Calva Mercado, who studied under Lejeune in the 1980s. Calva said he would spend “hours and hours with patients” and take all the time that was needed to answer the questions of concerned and worried parents.
“He was very devoted to his patients,” Calva said in an interview. “When things didn’t go well for a patient, he was really part of the sadness and the worries of the patient; he was part of the suffering of the patient.”
In 1982, Calva was a recent medical school graduate from Mexico City who wanted to specialize in genetics. With her professor’s help, she was able to move to Paris for eight months to work and study under the tutelage of Lejeune, who was already a renowned geneticist.
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