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an online version of the magazine Spring/Summer 2005
Annals of Hopkins
 
 

The Guy's and Us

 The link begins:  Alfred Blalock of Johns Hopkins with his Guy's colleagues on the steps of the London hospital.
> The link begins: Alfred Blalock (front center) of Johns Hopkins with his Guy's colleagues on the steps of the London hospital.
By Janet Farrar Worthington

Out of a wartime friendship sprang a bond between hospitals on opposite sides of the Atlantic that has prospered for 60 years.

 

It's an unlikely alliance—two great hospitals on opposite sides of the Atlantic that send their physicians, medical students and even teams of administrators and nurse educators back and forth to learn from each other. And yet, for almost 60 years, that's exactly what Johns Hopkins and Guy's Hospital of London have done. But why Hopkins , why Guy's? How did this strange medical brotherhood begin? The answer turns out to lie with a pair of unlikely buddies during World War II.

 

*****

 

Sicily , 1943, allied force headquarters, north african theater of operations: Hot, dry, dusty. An officer's club. Two of the Allies' top doctors are there, one English, one American. Brig. Gen. Edward “Bo” Boland, in charge of the British Medical Services and consulting physician to Allied Force Headquarters, and his American counterpart, Col. Perrin H. Long, U.S. Army, don't like each other much.

By rights, Boland, the operational definition of “tough as a boot,” shouldn't have been there at all. He'd been severely injured while serving in France and Flanders during World War I as a second lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade (after leaving medical school at Guy's Hospital to volunteer for combat at age 17). He had lost his left eye, had undergone several operations on his left leg for osteomyelitis, and endured attacks of pulmonary tuberculosis and acute nephritis.

But when World War II started, as his friend, noted English physician George Scott, recalled, Boland “contrived to be placed in medical category A1, fit for active service, while still entitled to a 100 percent disability pension from the first war.” The Allies were glad to have him. A colleague wrote: “His determined figure, with brigadier's flashes on his battle-dress and a black shade over the eye that had been lost in the 1914–1918 war, became a welcome sight to all medical specialists in the Mediterranean . He went everywhere and saw everyone. Back at headquarters no one could deflect him from carrying through his plans for improving the efficiency of the medical services.”

Perrin Long of Johns Hopkins, meanwhile, had been something of a “doctor to the stars” back in the States. An expert in infectious diseases and virology, he was renowned for his pioneering work with his Hopkins colleague Eleanor A. Bliss on sulfa drugs, some of the earliest antibiotics.

In war duty, Long had proven every bit as flinty as Boland in his handling of the infamous “slapping incidents,” which he had eyewitnessed, involving the renowned Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. Long's memo, “Mistreatment of Patients in Receiving Tents of the 15th and 93rd Evacuation Hospitals,” dated Aug. 16, 1943, described two incidents of physical and verbal abuse in devastating detail, and concluded: “The deleterious effects of such incidents upon the well-being of patients, upon the professional morale of hospital staffs, and upon the relationship of patient to physician are incalculable. It is imperative that immediate steps be taken to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.” When there was no response to Long's memo, he bypassed the normal chain of command and sent it directly to General Eisenhower, who reprimanded Patton and made him apologize.

Recalling Long later on, the great Hopkins internist and historian, A. McGehee Harvey, M.D., recounted a late-night incident in 1936 when the sulfa-drug expert was receiving calls from all over the world asking him for advice about using the new medications. He was also taking a full quota of good- natured ribbing from his colleagues, who would call, announce themselves as some famous individual, and give him a dramatic but fictitious story about their problem.” Harvey was there when Long's phone rang. “I answered it and a woman's voice asked for Dr. Long. He took the phone, and I heard him say, ‘You can't fool me this time! I know you're not Eleanor Roosevelt,' and he hung up. Within seconds the phone rang again. This time, he said meekly, ‘Yes, Mrs. Roosevelt, this is Dr. Long.'” The next day, the newspapers announced that the president's son was ill. Later, they reported that the boy had been cured by sulfanilamide, supplied by Long and Bliss.

 

*****

 

But back to our Sicilian watering hole. On this night, there's a mess party featuring lots of “medicinal alcohol,” as Dean Emeritus Richard S. Ross, M.D., who has made many trips to Guy's over the years, tells the story. And finally, Boland and Long, who had avoided each other for months, finally hit it off. They became such good friends, in fact, that “they decided, wouldn't it be nice for our two institutions to have some permanent bond?” Ross says.

Boland held onto that thought. After the war, he was named dean of Guy's Hospital Medical School , and in one of his early acts, he sent a letter to Alan Mason Chesney, then dean of the School of Medicine , proposing the new exchange program.

“The object,” Boland wrote in his letter dated Aug. 28, 1946, “would be to maintain the friendship, co-operation and exchange of ideas which has been one of the better things which have come out of this War. Many Guy's men have derived great advantages and have happy personal memories of former associations with your great Hospital... and we should value a closer association with you.”

Chesney discussed the proposal with members of the Hopkins faculty, and the response, according to papers left by Samuel P. Asper, then a professor of medicine and associate dean of the School of Medicine , was “unanimously enthusiastic.” The advisory board of the medical faculty gave the plan a thumbs-up, as did the University's president, Isaiah Bowman. On October 12, Chesney wrote to say, “We welcome it whole-heartedly.”

And so, in the fall of 1947 the Johns Hopkins/Guy's Hospital exchange began—and with gusto, we might add. Inaugurating the program were Hopkins' two world-famous heart specialists: surgeon Alfred Blalock and pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig, who'd recently developed the miraculous blue baby operation (along with surgical technician Vivien Thomas) to treat children born with the dangerous congenital malformation tetrology of fallot that robs the blood of oxygen.

At Guy's, Blalock performed the operation on eight desperately ill children. Edward Mansell, from the small town of Letchworth , 40 miles north of London , was one, and he still recalls the impact. “I was born in 1933 and had survived despite having a miserable, handicapped childhood. The operation proved to be a miracle and enabled me to grow up, to marry and have a family.”

Afterward, Mansell's hometown newspaper proclaimed: “Letchworth Blue Boy Cured.” “Blalock's effect on Guy's was tremendous,” Mansell says. “He was followed everywhere by crowds of medical students and doctors.”The Guy's/Hopkins relationship was under way.

Since then, for 58 years, two physicians a year from both schools have crossed the pond to spend a month working at the other institution. Hundreds of medical students from each school have also traded places to do their electives.

Ruminating several decades later on the effect of the longtime exchange—an exercise born of camaraderie between two wartime allies—Sam Asper wrote, “The goodwill and understanding that's resulted just cannot be measured.”

 
 
 
 
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