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McGill News
ALUMNI QUARTERLY - winter 2008
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Interesting reading

The McGill News is getting better all the time -- I used to glance at "Alumnotes" and "In Memoriam" and then toss the magazine out. Not so now -- I wait for the right free moment to read all those good articles (in both languages).

The epilogue by Dr. Mark Clarfield, "Defeated by Disease: Why Canada isn't American," sent me to look up the history of immunization against smallpox. My limited books of knowledge indicate that not until 1796 did Edward Jenner vaccinate people with cowpox to render them immune to smallpox. Did the British army vaccinate their recruits with the actual smallpox virus back in 1775? Can we be told more about this fascinating piece of our history?

Louise (Watson) Slemin, BSc'47
Toronto, Ont.

Ed note: We located the article on smallpox which first piqued Dr. Clarfield's interest in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The disease was a worldwide scourge, and signs of possible skin lesions from smallpox are found on Egyptian mummies. Smallpox was spread through trade and exploration, but eventually so were strategies for immunization. A procedure known as variolation was introduced in Europe at the beginning of the 1700s by travelers from Istanbul. Material from smallpox pustules was applied to the scratched or punctured skin of healthy individuals.

At the time of the attempted invasion of Canada, British troops were routinely inoculated. American troops were not, despite the urging of Benjamin Franklin whose son had died of smallpox. An outbreak of the disease killed almost half of the American soldiers. Edward Jenner, who was variolated at the age of 8, later developed a vaccine from cowpox. It proved effective against smallpox and since prophylaxis could be provided in the absence of the disease, widespread vaccination became possible. Smallpox was officially declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1980. Ironically, the last smallpox fatality occurred in 1978 as a result of exposure to stored virus at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. The WHO has recommended the destruction of all remaining stocks of smallpox virus.

The fall Monty

Dr. Clarfield's article in your fall issue was interesting. The American general who captured Montreal was Richard, not Bernard, Montgomery. I think someone substituted the first name of the World War II field marshal. Richard Montgomery was killed in a failed assault on Quebec in December 1775. He had been made a major-general on December 9, 1775, and died not knowing of his promotion.

Richard F. Grady,
B.Gen.(Ret.) U.S.A.M.C.
Montclair, N.J.

Ed note: Thanks to Richard Grady for that detail about Richard Montgomery, who, incidentally, was a smallpox survivor. He contracted the disease at the age of 19. A number of you wrote to point out the mix-up of military Montgomerys. The culprit was none other than your editor, who managed to leap ahead a couple of centuries while transcribing Dr. Clarfield's excellent article.

On hold for half a century


I was fascinated to read about Mary Coppin in the Summer 2000 issue of the McGill News and her motto, "It's never too late to learn." After retiring three years ago, I felt somewhat depressed and decided to return to Princeton for the senior year I missed when I withdrew a year early in order to enter medical school.

This turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had expected -- three courses, a term paper, senior thesis and senior comprehensive exam. Nevertheless, I succeeded and graduated last May, receiving my AB degree exactly 50 years after I withdrew. In retrospect, I would not have missed this challenging experience for anything in the world and I would urge the elderly amongst our alumni to take advantage of courses and programs which many universities in addition to McGill are offering to seniors nowadays. It sure beats all other pastimes -- well, maybe not golf!

R.F.P. (Pat) Cronin, MDCM'53
Baugy sur Clarens, Switzerland

Forum first aid

I have just received the Fall 2000 issue of the McGill News, and was intrigued by the sidebar on page 28 describing the terrible injury sustained by hockey player Trent McCleary, the efforts made to save him, and the description of the current state of medical backup that most sports enjoy.

The article jogged my memory of long gone days when I was similarly involved with sports medicine. I was a surgical intern serving at the old Montreal General Hospital on Dorchester Street, a short block from the Forum where all the home games of the Canadiens took place. The hospital had an arrangement with the team to provide medical care for the many acute and, fortunately, mostly minor injuries sustained by the players. In those days (circa 1949), the age of plastics had not yet arrived, so protection, especially of the head and face, was minimal.

On numerous occasions, I would get a call to report to the first aid room at the Forum for the game that night. The usual injury was a laceration about the head; very impressive to see since the rich vascularity of the region provided lots of blood! Invariably the player could hardly wait to get back on the ice. Between cases I was able to see the game in a sort of disjointed fashion. That was the era of the great star, Maurice Richard.

I enjoy the McGill News, even at this late date. The pages of "Alumnotes" and "In Memoriam" get thoroughly read. My class of Medicine '47 news is progressing steadily toward the top of the listings, as expected, and will one day drop off!

Robert Z. Perkins, MDCM'47
Oakland, Calif.

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