Raymond Henry Watten, a Navy medical researcher whose career spanned three continents in four decades and contributed to advances in cholera treatment, died Aug. 23 in Santa Rosa with family members by his side after a long bout with a staph infection. He was 91.
Born in Minnesota in 1922, Watten's curiosity led him to a career in tropical medicine. After graduating from Stanford Medical School in 1949, he served in Japan during the Korean War running a ward for soldiers wounded on the battlefield.
After the war, Watten joined the Navy Medical Corps as a tropical medicine researcher in Africa and Asia. Watten was passionate about his work, said Judy Watten, his wife.
"He used to say 'If you are a doctor and treat one patient, that's great. But if you are in research, you are helping thousands of people,'" she said.
Watten invented a cot for cholera patients. Known as the Watten Cot, it is designed to allow doctors to examine fluids from unconscious patients. He also created an oral rehydration solution still used to treat tropical disease patients in the developing world.
Watten made a "wonderful contribution to the field of cholera as well as other enteric diseases," David Sack, a professor of International Health at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in an email about the advances Watten made in tropical medicine.
Sack said the cot was Watten's most obvious accomplishment, but the hydration solution was perhaps even more important. "This marvelous invention is now saving millions of lives all over the world."
Watten was the commanding officer of Navy Medical Research Units in Taiwan, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Egypt. He received an award from Egyptian president Anwar Sadat for identifying an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever.
After fathering five children from a previous marriage, Watten met Judy Davis in Taiwan in 1976. The two shared a love of Asia pottery. Watten was drinking a beer next to a pottery kiln when they met, Judy Watten said.
"He remembered me in a mini skirt, and he remembered my legs," she said. "I said 'That's a great kiln.' It wasn't love at first sight, except for that kiln. He pursued me, and I finally went out with him."
After their marriage they moved to Ethiopia, which was embroiled in civil war. Their neighborhood in the capital, Addis Ababa, came under fire and they had to lie down to avoid bullets. They were evacuated from the country soon after that.
"That was a pretty nerve-wracking day for us," Judy Watten said. "That was our most dramatic adventure."
Upon retiring from the Navy, Watten served as the director of the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory in Panama, before retiring for good in 1987. The couple moved to Kenwood where Watten pursued hobbies including making pottery, growing orchids, cooking Chinese cuisine and traveling.
Watten opened his pottery studio to visitors and was part of the ARTrails exhibition of Sonoma County artists.
Besides his wife, Judy, Watten is survived by his children Barry Watten of Michigan, Christine Watten of Monterey, Jan Watten of Alameda, Shelly Hanan of Grass Valley and Barbara Johnstone of San Rafael; step daughters Laurie Milodragovich and Susan Davis of Seattle; five grandchildren and three step-grandchildren.
Services are today at 3 p.m. at Daniels Chapel of the Roses, 1225 Sonoma Avenue, Santa Rosa.