For his lifetime achievements, LeMaistre was chosen to be inducted into the Health Care Hall of Fame.
Despite his reputation as a leader in the fight against cancer, LeMaistre's path toward that place in history was somewhat circuitous, marked by memorable, life-changing events. One of his first run-ins with the medical world came as a 10-year-old when he suffered a ruptured appendix while wandering in the woods with his German shepherd, Inga.
“I was lying on the ground, and Inga took off and left me alone,” he said. “She went to my home, got two of my brothers who carried me back, and I was operated on immediately. It was a lesson that I reflected on many times because there was some reason why I survived that,” he said.
Throughout his early years of education, LeMaistre had an interest in medicine, he said. But his original intention was to attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis on an appointment from then Alabama Sen. Lister Hill. But the week before he was to leave for the academy, LeMaistre suffered an eye injury, making him ineligible.
Instead, he attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the town where he moved as a child with his mother and five older siblings following his father's death. There, he began his formal education at the Medical College of Alabama in 1943 before completing his doctor of medicine at Cornell University in 1947. After graduation, LeMaistre stayed at Cornell as a faculty member—teaching, practicing medicine and conducting research related to infectious diseases and broad-spectrum antibiotics—before heading to Emory University in Atlanta in 1954.
“I stayed on for five years doing the kinds of things that I really cherished—teaching in internal medicine and conducting a research program,” LeMaistre said of his time in Atlanta. “While I was there, I started the department of preventive medicine to prevent disease, rather than just cure it.”