updated 10/9/2009 6:10:39 PM ET 2009-10-09T22:10:39

Dr. Frederick "Fred" Wirth Jr., the physician to America's first test-tube baby, has died, his family said Friday. He was 68.

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Wirth died Monday of pancreatic cancer in Carson City, said his wife, Linda Wirth. He moved three years ago to nearby Minden, 50 miles to the south.

Wirth gained national attention as the neonatologist who cared for Elizabeth Jordan Carr after her birth on Dec. 28, 1981.

Carr, now a 27-year-old news content producer for the Boston Globe's Web site Boston.com, recalled Wirth as "the guy who took me out of the delivery room and carried me under his arm like I was a football."

She said Wirth conducted tests after she was delivered by Drs. Mason Andrews and Howard Jones, and determined how the public perceived the nation's first test-tube baby.

'He's family'
Wirth pronounced her healthy and normal at the first news conference, which the nation watched eagerly at a time when such medical technology was new and scary.

"I don't look at him as a doctor, he's family. It (his death) is part of losing your family," Carr said.

Wirth met Carr for the first time in 2003 in Boston, where the two discussed a letter he wrote to her the day after she was born.

The four-page letter tells her that in spite of her unusual conception — in a petri dish — she was a normal human being.

Carr said it was comforting to have someone other than her parents tell her that, and the letter got her through tough times of feeling insecure.

"This man told me that he could tell I would turn out just fine," she said. "He told me no matter how hard things got that I had two parents who really wanted to have a baby of their own."

At the meeting, Wirth said he always wondered what kind of a woman Carr had become. She graduated the next year from Simmons College in Boston.

"She's incredible, not just intellectually, but more important, emotionally," he said. "To me, she's a testament to the power of the reproductive energy that we have in the human race."

Carr's father, Roger Carr of Fitchburg, Mass., described Wirth as an intelligent, caring physician who made him and his wife, Judy, feel comfortable before and after the birth.

Roger Carr said his daughter was the 15th test-tube baby born worldwide.

"The medical community has lost a wonderful, loving physician who was always trying to help his patients," he said. "We will always have a special place in our heart for him."

Elizabeth Carr was born three years after the world's first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in England. More than a million test-tube babies have been born since.

Over the last decade, Wirth authored "Prenatal Parenting" and established the Institute for Perinatal Education.

He thought parents could have happier children if they avoided anger, managed stress and avoided other risky behaviors during pregnancy, Linda Wirth said.

"He really believed world peace begins in the womb, that we have to birth a new generation of happy children that will learn that war and murder is not the answer," she said.

Wirth cared for about 10,000 babies over his career and worked at Reading Hospital and Medical Center in Pennsylvania about 10 days a month up until June, Linda Wirth said.

He also was licensed to practice medicine in Maine, New Jersey and Virginia.

The New Orleans native received his undergraduate degree from Duke University and his medical degree from Tulane University in 1967.

He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to a study panel on life support systems for malformed infants.

He also served on the Southern Governors' Task Force on Infant Mortality in 1984-88.

Other survivors include four children and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at LifePoint Church in Minden.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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