Posts Tagged 'Public Health'

Deadly Medicine (9-29-1982)

It was a Wednesday.  In Elk Grove Village, a 12-year-old schoolgirl awoke with a sore throat.  She went to the medicine cabinet and took the appropriate pills.  A few minutes later, she collapsed.

The paramedics were called.  They came quickly, but could not save her.  The cause of death seemed to be a heart attack or a stroke.

An isolated tragedy.  And yet . . .

poison skull.jpg

In Arlington Heights that same morning, a 27-year-old postal worker died suddenly in his home.  Later in the day, family members gathered at the house to plan his funeral.  Within a short time, both the man’s brother and sister-in-law collapsed.  They also died.

Local authorities thought these deaths might have been caused by a gas leak.  Then it was discovered that all three people had taken Tylenol from the same bottle.  That morning, the Elk Grove Village girl had taken Tylenol for her sore throat.

The remaining Tylenol capsules in the Arlington Heights bottle were examined.  They contained cyanide.

Tylenol_bottle.jpg

Over the next few days, three other Tylenol deaths were reported, in Elmhurst, in Winfield, and in Old Town Chicago.  The tainted capsules had been manufactured in different places.  That could only mean that someone was going from store to store, sabotaging the medicine.

The public was warned not to use any Tylenol products.  Johnson & Johnson, the maker, halted production and issued a nationwide recall of 30 million bottles.  Since only capsules had been tainted, the company offered to replace them with solid tablets.

Meanwhile, federal and state law enforcement officials converged on Chicago.  Three more contaminated bottles turned up.  People were getting scared now.  Though only Tylenol had been tainted, sales of any kind of medicine plummeted.

lab-technician.jpg

On October 6, Johnson & Johnson received an unsigned letter claiming responsibility for the Tylenol murders.  The letter demanded that $1 million be deposited in a particular account at Continental Illinois Bank in Chicago.  Otherwise, the killing would resume.

James W. Lewis of New York City was soon arrested.  Federal authorities claimed he had written the letter to Johnson & Johnson.  Lewis said he was innocent.Lewis was convicted of attempted extortion on October 27, 1983.  He received a 20-year prison sentence for his crime.  After serving 13 years, he was paroled.

The seven Chicago Tylenol deaths led to stronger safety standards in drug production and packaging.  But thirty-five years later, the murders remain officially unsolved.

—30—

Advertisements

Practical Tattoos (8-1-1950)

The city’s health experts were urging all Chicagoans to get a tattoo.  The Soviet Union had developed an atomic bomb, the Korean War was raging, and the Chicago Civilian Defense Committee painted a grim picture of what might happen if The Bomb were dropped on the Loop.  Dr. Andrew Ivy said that a nuclear blast would kill 61,000 people outright and injure 231,000.

Dr. Andrew Ivy

In such an event, emergency blood transfusions would be necessary.  Treatment would be easier if a victim had a tattoo identifying blood type.  Dr. Ivy suggested that the best place for this tattoo would be below the left armpit, an area that would likely be protected from the blast.

Dr. Henrietta Herbolsheimer, the only woman on the committee, had a different idea.  She said that future fashions in women’s clothing were difficult to predict, and that a location on the inside of a leg might be better.  In the meantime, the committee said that a list of facilities where the public might obtain the medical tattoo was being developed.

—30—

Cook County Hospital Makes History (3-15-1937)

In the minds of some people, Cook County Hospital (aka Stroger) has a low-grade reputation.  It’s often forgotten that the hospital has a distinguished history.  One important event took place on this date.  The subject was blood.

cook-county-hospital

By the turn of the 20th Century, medical science had learned much about working with blood.  Transfusions were becoming common.  But blood will go stale after awhile.  If a patient needed blood, a live donor had to give it, directly and immediately.

Could blood be stored for longer than a few hours?  Researchers worked on that problem for decades.  During the early 1930s, Russia was able to set up a network of blood depots, where patients could have access to preserved blood.  This interested Dr. Bernard Fantus.

Fantus was a Hungarian-born physician who had earned his M.D. at the University of Illinois.  He became director of therapeutics at Cook County Hospital in 1934.  In his new role he began a series of experiments on how to increase the storage time for blood.

Dr. Bernard Fantus

Dr. Bernard Fantus

Using refrigeration and various additives, Fantus was able to preserve blood for up to ten days.  Early in 1937 he made plans to open the Blood Preservation Laboratory at County.

But he didn’t like that name!  Sure, it described the work that was going on at the new facility.  Trouble was, calling it the “Preservation Laboratory” made it sound like something out of a Dracula movie.

America was in the middle of the Depression.  Saving was on everyone’s mind.  After some rough times, banks were starting to rebound.  Fantus decided to call his facility the Cook County Hospital Blood Bank.  It opened on this date eighty years ago—March 15, 1937.

A few months later, Fantus published an article on the blood bank in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Other hospitals adopted the idea, and it spread world-wide.

Bernard Fantus died in 1940.  Today the out-patient clinic at his hospital is named the Fantus Health Center.

—30—

Horse Butcher for the World (1-19-1952)

If you’re getting ready to eat, maybe you’d better bookmark this one for later.  You have been warned!

All set?

As 1951 turned into 1952, many Chicagoans noticed that their meat was tasting—well, different.  And now, a couple of weeks into the new year, the reason was clear.  They’d been eating horse meat.

So much for moving to Chicago!

Guess we cancel that trip to Chicago!

Federal officials had been looking into meat sales around Chicago.  Today the papers reported that another state meat inspector had been fired for refusing to co-operate with the feds.  That made seven.

The investigation had started with a packing plant in Lake Zurich.  The feds claimed the “pure beef” shipped from there was actually 40% horse.  The plant had processed more than 10,000 pounds of meat a week.  Most of it wound up in Chicago.

Simple economics was the reason.  In 1952 beef sold for 59 cents a pound.  A pound of horse meat went for 14 cents.  The feds had shut down the Lake Zurich plant, but other area packers were still under suspicion.  And the Chicago mob seemed to be behind everything.

State meat inspectors had been bribed to look the other way.  Any retailers who complained about getting strange meat were warned to keep their mouths shut.  As a result, Chicagoans had consumed up to 4.5 million pounds of horse meat in the past two years.

News of the scandal had immediate impact.  Hamburger sales in Chicago dropped 50%.  Fruits and vegetables were suddenly in demand.  Meanwhile, city food inspectors became hyper-vigilant.  The world-famous Blackhawk Restaurant was found to be serving horse meat, and had its license pulled.
No thanks---I'll just have a salad!

No thanks—I’ll just have a salad!

There was also political fallout.  Governor Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat, was running for re-election.  The parade of disgraced meat inspectors didn’t do credit to his administration.  Though the governor wasn’t involved in the scandal, the Republicans were now making jokes about “Adlai-burgers.”

The horse meat probe led to several indictments.  In the end, only a few people did any prison time.  The Blackhawk reopened, and Adlai Stevenson wound up as his party’s nominee for President of the United States.  He lost that election, but horse meat was not a factor.

And that sound you now hear is your vegan friends . . . laughing.

—30—

Tattoos Can Save Lives! (8-1-1950)

On this date, the city’s health experts were urging all Chicagoans to get a tattoo.

Dr. Ivy

Dr. Ivy

The Soviet Union had developed an atomic bomb, the Korean War was raging, and the Chicago Civilian Defense Committee painted a grim picture of what might happen if The Bomb were dropped on the Loop. Dr. Andrew Ivy said that a nuclear blast would kill 61,000 people outright and injure 231,000. In such an event, emergency blood transfusions would be necessary. Treatment would be easier if a victim had a tattoo identifying blood type.

Dr. Ivy suggested that the best place for this tattoo would be below the left armpit, an area that would likely be protected from the blast. However, Dr. Henrietta Herbolsheimer, the only woman on the committee, said that future fashions in women’s clothing were difficult to predict, so a location on the inside of a leg might be better.  The committee said that a list of facilities where the public might obtain the medical tattoo was being developed.

It doesn’t seem that this program became widespread.  Perhaps tattoos should have been part of the Affordable Care Act.

—30—

Accessibility (5-31-1985)

There was a protest in the Loop today.  This time, the issue was how well the CTA was serving disabled riders.

Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation (ADAPT) had been staging protests in various cities.  In Illinois, the group had filed complaints against the CTA.  The matter was now before the state Human Rights Commission.

5-31--logo.jpg

ADAPT wanted hydraulic wheelchair lifts put on all new buses.  CTA said the $15,000-per-bus cost would break its budget.  Now ADAPT was planning to take action on the State Street Mall during the noon lunch break.

Ar 11:30 CTA officials and a dozen cops arrived at the scene.  They wanted to avoid a confrontation.  So when ADAPT protesters began arriving, CTA manager Michael Lavelle ordered bus drivers on State to skip the Madison stop.

“We’re trying to stop a disruption of service,” Lavelle told reporters.  But after ten minutes, the police asked that the buses be allowed to stop.  Lavelle agreed.

By now, 14 ADAPT members were on hand.  When the first bus opened its doors, the first disabled person lifted himself out of his wheelchair, and slowly crawled up the steps.  The process was repeated with other buses and other passengers.  For some people, boarding took as long as seven minutes.

The protest ended, and bus traffic along State resumed its normal pace.  Both sides put their own spin on the matter.

CTA’s Lavelle said ADAPT’s demonstration “accomplished nothing other than to prove they know how to disrupt traffic.”  He pointed out that CTA’s dial-a-ride service was providing 200 rides a day, and that number was going to be doubled.

ADAPT was not convinced.  “This just goes to show the extent they will go to stop us from riding,” a spokesman said.  “They’re embarrassed.  They don’t want their riders to know the truth.”

5-31--CTA map.jpg

The accessibility debate continue for the rest of the decade.  There were more protests, investigations, and court injunctions.  In 1990, when the Americans With Disabilities Act became law, many of the problems were addressed.

Three decades after the State Street demonstration, CTA boasts that all its bus routes, and the majority of its rapid transit stations, are handicap accessible.  And ADAPT is still around and active.

—30—

Chicago’s Human Dairies (3-14-1926)

Chicago’s health commissioner, Dr. Herman Bundesen, believed that breast milk was vitally important to an infant’s health.  Today he announced a program to make the milk available to all the city’s babies.

Nursing mothers who had surplus milk would be encouraged to sell it to the city health commission. The milk could then be resold to mothers who were unable to nurse their own babies.  Bundesen called his plan “human dairies.”

Dr. Bundesen

Dr. Bundesen

Wet nurses had been around since ancient times, but the practice was dying out. Beginning  in 1911, human milk banks had been set up in Boston, New York, Buffalo, and other cities. All of them were run by private charities.  Chicago’s would be the first operated by a government agency.

The health commission would pay 10-cents-per-ounce for the milk. The average donor might earn about $2.50 each day–enough to stay home with her baby, and not have to get a job. The sale price for the milk would be based on what the buyer could afford, up to a maximum of 30-cents-per-ounce.

No woman would be denied milk if she were unable to pay for it. “We have gone into this project essentially for the poor and orphan babies, and have no idea of commercializing the plan,” Bundesen said. “Our purpose is not to make money, but to save lives.”

Initial costs were budgeted from the commission’s discretionary fund.  That would provided up to $5,000 for setting up neighborhood collection stations. Once the program got going, it would be self-sustaining.

Trained nurses were to be on hand at each of the stations. If a donor had trouble providing milk, a special electrical stimulator might be employed.  Some mothers using this device had produced nearly a gallon of milk in a single day.

Preparing milk for distribution

Preparing milk for distribution

Bundesen emphasized that donors would be carefully screened. “In addition, we will supply our mothers with fresh fruit and vegetables, with fresh milk from healthy cows, and with ice cream,” he said. “Their milk will be plentiful and nutritious.”

The Chicago breast milk bank became a popular and successful program. Dr. Herman Bundesen remained in charge on the city’s public health until his death in 1960.

—30—