Sunday, January 24, 2016

Helen Elliot, Vassar '41, Dawson's H.E. ?

A Vassar graduate of the class of 1941, Helen Elliott, unfortunately died in the medical crossfire of late 1943, as the American therapeutic reforming elite struggled to regain control of their own personal take on the course of WWII.

This elite had recently come under attack from a handful of courageous doctors and industrialists questioning the moral compass of wartime penicillin as these therapeutic reformers had self-defined it.

Simply put the issue was this : was wartime penicillin to go on being distributed as the Nazis might have distributed it, or was it to now be distributed as the Atlantic Charter suggested it should be distributed ?

I would like to rescue Helen's story from its present obscurity for what it tells us about medicine at war

Now this blog has had many posts (mostly from 2015) where I definitively identify (and offer a brief biography of) the three men who were History's first patients to treated with an life-saving antibiotic.

All who received Dawson's homebrew injected penicillin before the better known (but later) Oxford policeman patient of Nobel winner Howard Florey.

They were in Dr Henry Dawson's first group of five SBE and one ABE male patients, all that he treated prior to being ensnared in the all-controlling web of the medical 'therapeutic reformers' running the wartime OSRD/CMR & NAS/COC.

Their names : Aaron (Leroy) Alston, Charles Aronson and George M. Conant.

Dawson's closest associate, Dr Gladys Hobby, in the 1980s met with three patients from the last and quite large group of SBE patients of both genders that he and Dr Thomas Hunter treated before Dawson's tragically early death in April 1945 .

These were all patients Dawson had treated without Dr Hobby by his side, as she by then worked at Pfizer ---- while remaining close to Dawson and Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in her spare hours.

I will call them by their first names and last name initial (Miriam L, Penny M and Otto M) because unexpectedly, I have had no luck at all finding any trace of them by the last names that she had given them in her 1985 book, "Penicillin : Meeting the Challenge".

But until my recent trip to the NAS and NARA II archives in Washington, I had no luck putting a name to any of the five young women (The Five) that Dawson treated in his heroic middle period.

In that period, between November 1942 and January 1944, Dawson basically had to "steal" (re-allocate) scarce government controlled penicillin to demonstrate, at last, that modestly large amounts of penicillin could indeed finally cure the invariably fatal SBE.

The five women were known only by their age, gender and medical history - and their first and last name initials.

Perhaps the animus because L W Gorham was "that man's" (FDR) personal physician ?

But in July 1943, OSRD/CMR staff choose to break ordinary protocol and refer in writing to one of Dawson's patients by her actual name (Helen Elliot) and connect that name with a letter from Dr Dawson in association with Dr L W Gorham of Albany NY.

And with their desperate plea for additional penicillin after the July 16th WPB 1943 cutoff of penicillin distribution outside official channels.

Together that means Helen Elliot simply must be patient H.E. - everything matches her highly unique medical history.

Helen is probably from Colonie NY, a big suburb of Albany - but that is only a maybe for now.

However, Dawson's published article on The Five also gives H.E.'s date of death precisely as September 4th 1943.

A Vassar  website  says that a Vassar graduate of 1941 (likely making her 23 in 1943, as was H.E.) named Helen Elliot died on September 4th 1943.

H. E. had been denied extra penicillin by the CMR & COC and after being put on sulfa to no avail, died of the effects of her continuing blood poisoning, though her SBE itself seemed cured according to the autopsy results.

I'd bet everything that this unfortunate Vassar graduate is our H.E. ....

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