Monday, August 22, 2016

One More Hero Gone

I don’t usually read the sports section but the New York Times’ final coverage of the Olympics drew me in. There, after all the gold medal stories, was Dr. Donald A. Henderson’s obituary. 

I knew him. I read his book, “Smallpox: The Death of a Disease.” I sat at the table with him in Rotary International’s board room in Evanston, IL and at the Pan American Health Organization’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. 

 It’s entirely possible that most people have never heard of him – have no idea that he led the successful global effort to eradicate smallpox. 

Two years ago another hero died, Dr. Ciro de Quadros, who led the successful effort to eradicate polio from the Americas. Dr. de Quadros was part of the smallpox eradication team – one of the hundreds of heroes whom Dr. Henderson honored with the “Order of the Bifurcated Needle.” [The smallpox vaccine was administered with a two-pronged needle.] 

When Rotary International committed that association to the eradication of polio, Dr. D.A. Henderson was one of the experts consulted. Sometimes he supported the effort (believing it possible), sometimes not (believing it more ‘evangelical than attainable’. And sometimes he changed his mind. 

Always bringing great intellect, common sense, and compassion to his dedication to human health, he was a hero among heroes. 

However tangentially, his life touched mine and I was enriched. And he saved the lives – and the quality of life – for hundreds of thousands of us. 

Thank you, Dr. D.A. Henderson.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you Mim for this post about Dr Henderson. It is so important to remind us all what dedicated men (and women) could achieved. Smallpox was the first disease to be eradicated, it will soon be Polio's turn. Something that with the like of Ted Trainer, Fernando Verrani (he did Smallpox too), Erich Gerber, EGP Haran, and so may others you can be proud of.

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  2. Good memories of a couple of men whose lives changed the world. Thanks for writing this, Mim.

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