The man who saved us all.AV Deshpande
Department of Paediatric Surgery, Seth G. S. Medical College and K. E. M. Hospital, Parel, Mumbai - 400 012, India., India
Correspondence Address: Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None PMID: 12082340
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Keywords: England, History of Medicine, 19th Cent., Human, Rheumatic Heart Disease, history,Smallpox Vaccine, history,
Whose singular effort was it, which saved more life and suffering than any other single accomplishment in the whole history of medicine? – Edward Jenner, the discoverer of vaccination. And what’s more, ‘smallpox‘, the disease against which he fought all his life has been eradicated!
Edward Jenner was the third son of a clergyman in Bristol, Gloucestershire. His first interest was natural history. After his preliminary education, he worked first with Mr. Ludlow, an eminent surgeon and then with John Hunter. The inspiration of Hunter’s original genius meant much for young Jenner, and he developed unquenchable desire for knowledge and love for truth.
Then began his epic mission triggered of by an observation that dairy workers infected by cowpox developed a peculiar resistance to the deadly smallpox. He conveyed this to Hunter and said ‘I am thinking about it‘. Back came the reply - ‘Don’t think, investigate it!‘
Jenner worked for ten long years searching for the ‘true‘ cowpox patients and studying the natural course of the disease. He had to travel great distances since cowpox was not so common in his neighbourhood.
Sixteen long years after he had set out to investigate, he conducted his first trial. His subject was his son! He proved beyond doubt that inoculation of cowpox material at a particular stage of the disease offered protection against smallpox. He brought out his discovery in a manner so complete that little has been added to it ever since.
But life is never a bed of roses. Jenner met with severe resistance and even rejection! His medical peers accused him of introducing an alien disease into the system in anticipation of future illness. Jenner was shattered, defeated and returned to his country practice.
Mr. Cline, a surgeon in London who tried his vaccine as a counterirritant on a run-down child, gave his magical discovery a new life! Later, he casually injected smallpox material into the kid. To everyone’s surprise the vaccine worked! Then, there was no looking back. The brainchild of Jenner received worldwide acclaim and was universally accepted.
Besides his expertise as a medical investigator, Jenner had many glorious facets to his personality. He was a good poet,
On the death of a miser
“ Tom at last has laid by his old, niggardly forms
And now gives good dinners; to whom pray? – the worms!“
He also investigated hibernation of animals, habits of a cuckoo and the properties of sap in trees.
The readers may be astonished to know that Edward Jenner was the first one to suggest a connection between rheumatism and heart disease and probably among the first one to hint at the pathological basis of angina pectoris.
As a person, he was deeply religious and humane. He was of the opinion that religion should be taught at school. Once when a priest praised him as ‘One who saved lives‘, he responded saying that priests saved souls.
Among the rich and apt tributes paid to him is a special one from the great Thomas Jefferson
“…….I avail myself of this occasion to render you my portion of the tribute of gratitude due to you from the whole human family……. You have erased from the calendar of human affections one of its greatest. Yours is the comfortable reflection that mankind can never forget that you have lived; future nations will know by history only that the loathsome smallpox existed, and by you has been extirpated.”