In March 1942, 33-year-old Anne Miller lay near death in a Connecticut hospital, her body ravaged with a burning fever for weeks. She had developed septicemia, or blood poisoning, following a miscarriage. Doctors tried every known treatment, and in a last-ditch effort to save her life, decided to gamble on a new experimental drug called penicillin. The government released nearly half of its entire supply – roughly a tablespoon. Within a day, Anne’s temperature returned to normal and she was on the road to recovery. Anne became the first American treated with penicillin. This newly developed miracle drug would ultimately save the lives of millions, including countless soldiers during WWII.
In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming was experimenting with the flu virus in a London hospital laboratory when he discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin by accident. A staphylococcus culture plate inadvertently became contaminated with mold, and Fleming noticed the mold prevented the growth of staphylococci.
Fleming published his findings and Oxford researchers Howard Flory and Ernest Chain continued the research. After intense German bombings in London in 1940 made research difficult, Flory and biochemist Norman Heatley collaborated with the US government and the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research and began work in a research lab in Peoria, Illinois. The first human trials involving penicillin started in London in 1941, but the US government didn’t approve a trial until Anne Miller’s doctor successfully lobbied for the drug in 1942. It was a huge success. After it became clear that penicillin could dramatically reduce infection, the US government ramped up production rapidly.
The use of penicillin to treat soldier’s wounds and amputations revolutionized combat medicine during WWII. Doctors reported that wounded soldiers who were weak and delirious began to improve almost immediately after being injected with penicillin. One soldier being treated at Bushnell’s Veteran Hospital in Utah lay sick in a hospital bed for 14 months. His festering wounds contained bits of uniform, missile fragments, and shattered bone. Doctors did not dare operate on the gangrenous wound. Once the soldier began receiving penicillin injections, he began to improve almost immediately. This soldier who suffered terribly for 14 months recovered in just 27 days.
Anne Miller may have been the first patient treated with penicillin in the US, but to date, penicillin is credited with saving the lives of millions and ushering in the age of antibiotics. These advances had a huge impact on medical care for wounded WWII soldiers, turning penicillin into the war’s miracle drug. Anne Miller went on to live another 57 years after that first dose of penicillin. She died in 1999 at the age of 90. To read more about the development of penicillin and its use during WWII, search Newspapers.com today!