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Canadian History for Kids: Frederick Banting

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and Canadian History for Kids have assembled 31 remarkable stories about incredible people, places and events which helped shape our amazing nation.

A grateful nation never forgets a hero.

There are many significant stories to be told about the ‘war to end all wars’. This story is about an amazing medic during World War 1, would become one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated medical heroes.

This is the story of Sir Frederick Banting.

Frederick Banting graduated from medical school in 1916 while the First World War was raging in Europe. He was anxious to take part in the war effort but was excluded twice because of poor eyesight.

He tried again and was accepted into the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He left for France the next year and served first as a medical officer in the Amiens-Arras sector and later as medical officer with the 4th Canadian Division near Cambrai.

In late September 1918, just weeks before Armistice, he was wounded in the right arm by an exploding German shell. Nonetheless, he continued treating other wounded patients. For his bravery and determination under fire, he was awarded the Military Cross.

Banting returned to Canada in February 1919. He completed his training as an orthopedic surgeon and, in July 1920, he began to practise medicine and surgery in London, Ontario.

Dr. Banting was working as a part-time instructor at the University of Western when, during a sleepless night on October 31, 1920, something he was reading in a medical journal suddenly clicked. He immediately jotted down an idea for research.

Banting began working on the problem of diabetes. At that time, people with diabetes had shortened lives. Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that turns sugar into energy.

Banting and Dr. Charles Best, then a medical student, working in a small laboratory, started experiments on dogs, working on insulin samples for human use. On January 23, 1922, the researchers gave their insulin serum for the first time to a human, 14 year old Leonard Thompson. He experienced an almost instant recovery.

The discovery was not a cure, but it was a treatment for a previously untreatable disease. Banting and Best sold the rights to the University of Toronto for $1, ensuring that insulin could be available to all those who needed it.

For their efforts, Banting and Best won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 1923.

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