Because of Downs' work at the University of Colorado, virtually every newborn in the country gets a hearing test.
These days the test is sophisticated and involves headphones and brain measurements. But when Downs started out, she would stand over a crib and honk a horn or use a squeaky toy in an effort to startle the infant.
If the infant did not react, it was a clue that the child might be deaf or hard of hearing.
Downs says she understood the need for hearing tests in the 1950's when she was working with children with hearing losses.
"I found that the earlier they were identified and given therapy, the better their speech and language was, and finally we realized we had to start at birth," Downs told Ryan Warner in a 2011 interview.
Today the Marion Downs Hearing Center at the CU School of Medicine works with people of all ages who have hearing loss.
The Center will host a gala and fundraiser for Downs on Sunday.