Neonatal care pioneer saved 1,000s of premature babies

A man who saved the lives of thousands of premature babies by pioneering neonatal treatment in the US was the focus of a BBC feature this week.

Martin Couney, a Jewish-German immigrant to the United States in the early 20th century, set up an unconventional exhibit in New York called ‘All the World Loves a Baby’.

For 25 cents, visitors could come and see babies being cared for in incubators. Their money covered the facility’s operating costs and helped save the lives of many babies.


At the time, many doctors in the West held the view that premature babies were genetically inferior and should be left alone. Without intervention, many died.

The medical establishment viewed Couney as a charlatan but he used the latest incubators from Europe, where France was well ahead of the US in terms of premature infant care.

During his career the pioneer estimated that he had saved the lives of nearly 6,500 premature babies, with an 85 per cent success rate.

Coney Island IncubatorCouney shows a child one of the premature babies he is caring for.

Saved thousands

As well as saving their lives, Couney gave lectures praising the babies’ potential and cited the names of famous men like Sir Isaac Newton who were born prematurely and went on to achieve great things.

Couney died in 1950 at the age of 80 and he is remembered fondly by the people he saved. Carol Boyce Heinisch, who was born in 1942, said: “He should be famous for what he did. He saved thousands of us”.

And Beth Allen, who was born in 1941, said: “Nobody else was offering to do anything to save me”, adding: “Without Martin Couney I wouldn’t have had a life”.

Coney Island NursesNurses at the facility pose with some of the premature babies they are tending to.


In December last year, parents in the UK who were told by doctors to end life support for their premature daughter because of the cost celebrated her third birthday.

Faith Snell was born at 25 weeks in December 2012, weighing just 1lb 2oz.

She spent the first six weeks of her life in intensive care after suffering a brain haemorrhage during an emergency caesarean section.

Leanne and Anthony took Faith home in April 2013 expecting her to be on oxygen for four years – yet a week later she was breathing on her own.