On February 24, 1928, physician Donald Rasmussen was born in Colorado. In 1962, he moved to Beckley to work at Miners Memorial Hospital.
He quickly observed that many coal miners were suffering from severe breathing problems. As a result, he began dedicating a good portion of his time to studying black lung disease.
At the time, the federal government denied the existence of black lung. But, the disease was rampant in the coalfields. And the numbers were on the rise due to the increased use of underground machines, which generated more dust than traditional hand-loading methods had.
Rasmussen’s work showed that many miners had the disease, even when it didn’t show up in x-rays.
Rasmussen also became a vocal advocate for miners—at a time when their union was doing little about black lung. He testified before Congress on the issue and joined fellow doctors I. E. Buff and Hawey Wells at protest rallies.
In these ways, Rasmussen and his colleagues were one of the driving forces behind the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which authorized compensation for miners with black lung.