The title of the book for which Erich Saling is best known is “Das Kind im Bereich der Geburtshilfe”. Translated word for word into English it is called “The Child in the Field of Obstetrics”. Saling’s choice of this particular name reflects the leitmotif underlying his life as a doctor and a scientist, making the world of the unborn child accessible to scientific research.
After having studied medicine in Jena and Berlin and receiving his doctoral degree from the Free University of Berlin, Erich Saling pursued further professional training as a gynecologist from 1952 to 1958 at Städtische Frauenklinik Berlin- Neukölln. In 1963, he presented his post-doctoral thesis on “The Ratios of Blood Gas and the Acid-Base Balance of a Fetus in the Course of an Unimpaired Birth”. Saling then went on to become an adjunct professor at the Free University of Berlin in 1968. In 1979 he was appointed as head of the newly formed Department of Obstetrics at the Frauenklinik Neukoelln, and became a full professor in perinatal medicine at the Free University of Berlin in the same year. After 38 years he retired from clinical practice in late 1990, but he remained an important voice in the field.
Saling’s scientific interest initially focused on the diagnosis and treatment of the depressed neonate. He published his first works on the subject in 1958 and 1959 and these publications remained some of the most citied in the field. In 60 years of scientific work that followed, this leitmotif essentially remained the same: the diagnosis of intrauterine oxygen deficiency and its consequences; avoidance of preterm deliveries and growth-restriction; and management of breech presentation. However, what makes his contribution to science so exceptional is not the multitude of ideas that Saling pursued, but was his discovery of the unborn child. Amongst his greatest ideas was that of taking a blood sample from the fetus during birth. This procedure, which is referred to as the “Saling Technique,” offered new opportunities for the analysis of physiological and patho-physiological factors. This was a major milestone in the progress of obstetrics and revolutionized the field of perinatal medicine. Through his work in gaining scientific access to the unborn child, Saling played a strong part in turning the midwifery of old into the obstetrics we know today. While he was not alone in this effort, the work he did was seminal for prenatal and perinatal medicine and determined the course of modern obstetrics.
When the German Society of Perinatal Medicine was founded, along with its subsidiary societies all over the world, pediatricians were invited to cooperate in scientific discourse of great interest to their childhood patients. This collaboration was continued with the foundation of the Journal of Perinatal Medicine and is now being practiced globally with focus on improving perinatal outcomes. The last 40−50 years have seen the founding of many national and international societies of perinatal medicine based on these principles, including the International Academy of Perinatal Medicine (IAPM), which was formed in 2005. IAPM is an independent, non-profit institution with 30 permanent fellows from all over the world and owes its existence to the preparatory work done by the World Association for Perinatal Medicine, The International Society of the Fetus as a Patient, and the European Association of Perinatal Medicine. Its purpose is to serve as a forum for the assessment and discussion of worldwide perinatal medicine. Erich Saling serves as the president of the board of directors and it is his wish to draw up guidelines focusing on practical topics, while also intensifying and broadening the academic discussions of ethics and the impact of globalization on perinatal medicine.
Erich Saling’s life is a series of successes. He has been honored and recognized by many. Scientific prizes, courses, and medical schools have been named for him. I have had the privilege and honor to work with Erich Saling as a resident, as a consultant, and as his deputy director. I have many things in my life to thank him for. To this day, our regular exchanges and discussions bear witness to the instruction I received from him at the start, and to our later cooperation. Thank you.