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St. Patrick’s Day 2019: Celebrating Ireland’s Contributions to Medicine

Affectionately dubbed the Emerald Isle, Ireland is known for a bit of everything from magical leprechauns and four-leaf clovers to Guinness and Jameson. It has even been the inspiration behind festivals all around the world as thousands take to local streets, bar and pubs every year on March 17th to celebrate the illustrious St. Patrick’s Day. 

However, there is more to Irish culture than folklore, flowers, and firewater. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day this year, we are highlighting four contributions to health and medicine from the island nation of Ireland.

The Portable Defibrillator

Known as “The father of emergency medicine,” the portable defibrillator was invented by Professor Frank Pantridge of County Down in 1964. It relied on a car battery for current and weighed 150 pounds. The device showed amazing success, having recorded 10 complete resuscitations and a 50 percent long-term survival rate within the first 15 months of use.

The Hypodermic Needle

Dublin-born Dr. Francis Rynd invented the hypodermic needle in 1845 and, in doing so, revolutionized the world of medicine by offering an alternative way to administer drugs; prior to this, drugs were only given orally. Today, modern versions of his needle – syringes – are so commonplace that we can hardly image medicine without it.

Radiotherapy

Radiation was first effectively used to treat cancer in Dublin 100 years ago an idea brought forth by John Joly, a scientist from Co Offaly. Coined the “Dublin Method,” Joly proposed using the radioactive radon gas emitted by radium to treat cancerous growth.  This proved to be a far better alternative to using radium itself which was expensive and difficult to handle. The gas emitted could be collected in thin glass tubes; the dose of radiation could be controlled more easily; and the gas could be injected directly into the core of the tumor.

Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes enlargement of the thyroid gland, affecting mood, weight and mental and physical levels. Much of our understanding of this complicated disorder comes from Dr. Robert James Graves who recognized the full symptomology of the illness in 1835 — specifically the correlation between exophthalmos (bulging eyeballs) and an enlarged thyroid – and gave the first comprehensive description.  Graves was born in Dublin, Ireland (1796-1853) and was also one of the first Irish doctors to promote the use of the stethoscope.

While Pantridge, Rynd, Joly, and Graves are just a few examples of individuals who have made a profound impact in medicine, the list of Irish doctors, scientists, and inventors and their life-changing achievements goes on. 

Moreover, their technological and scientific breakthroughs go far beyond the borders of Ireland and permeate into the everyday lives of millions worldwide. So when you don those green beads to call on your doctors this month, you may want to share your newfound knowledge and keep the Irish celebration going.

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