Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dr Kenneth Deeth , Canadian Armoured Division Medical Corps : penicillin just in time

In 1997, a Hengelo Netherlands doctor named W Y Sijtsema published (in Dutch) an article about the earliest known use of penicillin to save a life in his country : a very moving story and one with with a Canadian connection.

(I mean a connection beyond Canadian Dr Martin Henry Dawson's monumental pushing and prodding that got wartime penicillin going in the first place.)

Sijtsema's article title is translated (in English) as  "Penicillin: Just in Time".

After his doctor father Jan M Sijtsema passed on, W Y discovered some interesting dusty files in his father's attic, concerning a young new mother dying of childbed fever just after delivering a son, in early May 1945.

The son was healthy - amazing considering his mother had lived through the horrible Hunger Winter of 1944-1945  -  but the famine had ruined her health and she was so clearly dying that she had already said her goodbyes to her family and newborn baby before she fell back into unconsciousness and hallucinations for the last time.

The best medicine the Hengelo General Hospital had - sulfa drugs and blood transfusions - couldn't stop the deadly GAS strep infection.

But a Scottish doctor named Kenneth Deeth , a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF , seconded to the medical corps unit of a Canadian armoured division headquartered in Twickel Castle in nearby Delden , had earlier taken pity on a young Dutch boy dying at home with TB and had stolen/liberated some Canadian penicillin for him.

The penicillin family of drugs does nothing for TB but is still the best cure all for GAS strep.

So some of the ampules were taken in Hengelo General where the patient recovered almost overnight, decades later telling W Y Sjtsema of the feeling of wanting to remain in her half-dead hallucinatory state forever but the sight of her baby on the nurse's arm reminded her she had a new son and another child at home to care for.

For this young mother, her war at least ended not with a bang but with her newborn baby's contented whimper - thanks to a few bold people like Kenneth Deeth and a small illicit box of Canadian Army issue penicillin .

Operation Manna indeed .....

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