Within the annuls of Napa County’s medical history is a collection of some unexpected and sensational stories. Found in between the more typical stories, such as local health ordinances and facilities, two of these surprising stories highlight the details of a risky procedure performed to save a Napan’s life and a doctor facing charges for performing an illegal procedure.
In December 1930 the Napa Daily Journal printed a report of a medical procedure we now consider commonplace and relatively routine. Its headline said, “Patient Is Stronger As Result of Operation.”
The details continued, “One of the most delicate of medical operations — a blood transfusion — has been resorted to by surgeons in an effort to save the life of Fire Warden W.S. Dean, one of the most highly esteemed residents of Napa County. He has been critically ill at the Victory Hospital (in Napa) for more than three months.”
The Journal added, “Surgeons kept close watch over their patient following the transfusion, then reported that the transfusion had been a success.” The needed blood for the transfusion was donated by the warden’s son, George Dean.
Shortly after the procedure was completed, the physicians provided an update and prognosis. “Although he is still a very critically sick man, Dean has made steady improvement since the transfusion,” the Journal reported. “And it is now believed that this act on the part of the surgeons may allow him to make a recovery.”
The hospital where this ground breaking procedure took place, the Victory Hospital once located on Jefferson Street just south of Lincoln Avenue, had opened just a year earlier.
Eventually it became known as the Parks Victory Memorial Hospital in honor of a long-time employee, Anna Parks. Before that name change, other staff members received special remembrances at this hospital. For instance in 1933, Herbert R. Coleman, a beloved local physician, was memorialized with a commemorative plaque installed at the Victory Hospital.
In addition to Napa’s Victory Hospital, Calistoga residents established their town’s hospital years earlier. In 1918 the Francis House was converted into the Calistoga community hospital.
At both of these hospitals and other Napa County medical facilities, records were kept regarding diseases, births and deaths. In 1936, the Napa City Council received a vital statistics report from Dr. C.C. Hackett. He “reported 12 births, seven deaths, four cases of chicken pox, one of measles and two of whooping cough (had occurred in Napa during January 1936,)” said the Journal.
The same issue of the Journal announced the federal government was about to commence a health survey in Napa County. “Eight trained enumerators of the U.S. Public Health Service will shortly inaugurate a survey of chronic diseases and physical ailments among residents of Napa.”
The Journal continued, “The object of the survey is to determine the extent and severity of chronic diseases and physical impairments suffered by the populace in order that future health services can be planned by Federal, State and Local Agencies.”
As a precautionary measure to protect the public against potential fraud, scams, or worse, the federal agency required each surveyor to carry and present an official letter of authority.
Another safeguard intended to protect the public was approved in 1947 by the Napa City Council. It placed tighter controls on local food handlers by implementing a new regulating ordinance.
An even greater risk to the public’s well being was dealt with by the Napa County courts years earlier. A July 1933 Journal headline announced, “Dr. Woelfly Must Face Felony Charges.”
The article began, “That ‘Dr.’ Frederick Woelfly, 33, now held in the Napa County jail facing a charge of practicing medicine without a license, will this morning be faced with the more serious charge of having performed an abortion. It was only this morning that one of the four young ladies ‘Dr.’ Woelfly is said to have treated admitted to District Attorney Rutherford that she had been in a delicate condition and had submitted to treatment at the hands of the accused. She stated she did not know an abortion had been performed, thinking she was submitting to an appendicitis operation.”
Woelfly pleaded guilty to the licensing charge and not guilty to the felony charge. During the preliminary hearing, he was found guilty of practicing without a license and fined $250. The court also ruled he had to stand trial on the felony charge.
The case proceeded through the local judicial system quickly and quietly. Ultimately, Woelfly was convicted of performing “criminal operations” and sentenced to serve five years at San Quentin.
Eventually the fervor generated by this story, as with all sensational stories, died down — until the next big and fantastic story made the headlines of the local newspapers.