Insulin

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        November is the month for lavish Thanksgiving feasting. It’s also Diabetes Awareness Month. Design? Coincidence? Irony? And what does this have to do with our parish?

          Diabetes – named by the ancient Greeks in Biblical times — is a metabolic disorder in which the body fails to create insulin to properly process glucose, or blood sugar. It is a terrible – and increasingly prevalent — disease worldwide. Though it’s been around for centuries, it was a death sentence for many until recent times.

          The breakthrough came in 1920, when  Canadian Dr. Frederick Banting demonstrated that insulin extracted from a dog pancreas could control blood glucose levels. The first test of insulin on human patients began with a 14-year-old diabetic boy at the Toronto General Hospital in January 1922, and other trials continued that year. Not all of the test subjects were children – fortunately for our parish..

          Bishop Michael Crane, the Pastor who built our church in the early 1900s, had long suffered from diabetes and his condition was worrisome. The Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center (PAHRC) recently uncovered several letters from Cardinal Dougherty to the Archbishop of Toronto, begging him to see what could be done to get insulin for his Assistant Bishop. In late 1922, Bishop Crane was accepted into Banting’s programme as one of the “guinea pigs” for the early testing of insulin on humans.

          On November 18, 1922, Bishop Crane wrote to Cardinal Dougherty from the Toronto General Hospital, detailing his treatment. He noted that only small amounts of insulin could yet be created, so “they have only thirteen patients in the diabetic clinic…They give you a certain amount of food, some of which contains sugar to see what percentage goes into the blood. I got my first record today…The percentage of sugar in the urine was less than 2 percent. In August I had 6 percent. This I consider very encouraging…” (A curious subject for a letter to a Cardinal!).

          The following year, in 1923, Dr. Frederick Banting and Professor John MacLeod received the Nobel Prize in Physiology for their discovery and refinement of insulin.

          Bishop Crane returned to our parish after his successful treatment and resumed his many duties. Curiously, our parish chronicles contain no mention of his absence! He died of pneumonia during a flu epidemic just a few years later,  on December 26, 1928, at age 65.

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