I don’t know much about medical history, so in the quarter century I’ve been reading books by Jared Diamond, I’d never recognized his family name until I looked it up while writing my review in Taki’s of his latest book, Upheaval:
He started off in physiology, in the footsteps of his father, Louis Diamond, a medical researcher who discovered a number of hereditary blood disorders. Diamond’s dad, “the father of pediatric hematology,” was a great man. His New York Times obituary said a transfusion technique he invented in 1946 “is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies.”
I’ve read a lot of obituaries over the years, and not too many of them include the line “is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies.”
But then, Boston in the 1940s appears to have been teeming with historic figures medical research. Jared Diamond mentions at the beginning of his new book the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942 that killed 492 people. One of the two E.R. surgeons on duty was Dr. Francis D. Moore, who went on to a titanic career. There was a great Atul Gawande article about him in the New Yorker in 2003, although it can be hard to find online.
Another giant was Leonard Diamond’s colleague:
Sidney Farber (September 30, 1903 – March 30, 1973) was an American pediatric pathologist. He is regarded as the father of modern chemotherapy for his work using folic acid antagonists to combat leukemia, which led to the development of other chemotherapeutic agents against other malignancies. Farber was also active in cancer research advocacy and fundraising, most notably through his establishment of the Jimmy Fund, a foundation dedicated to pediatric research in childhood cancers. The Dana–Farber Cancer Institute is named after him.
Up through World War II, the word “cancer” was barely spoken out loud because it was seen as an automatic death sentence. About 10 years ago, my wife was talking to an Armenian lady from the Soviet Union. She mentioned that I had survived cancer. “Your husband survived … [in a whispered voice] cancer?”
Well, it was like that in the U.S. too. In 1948, Farber got one of the leukemia kids he’d gotten into remission on the Truth and Consequences radio show and the boy caused a national sensation. So Farber added public relations to his scientific and medical responsibilities and had a big impact on public support for cancer research.
One of the first celebrities to “battle cancer” in the public eye was the famous woman track and golf star Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who came back from cancer surgery to win the 1954 Women’s Open by 12 strokes. President Eisenhower called attention to her heroism.