5 Maverick Jews who Saved Millions of Lives

Thinking out of the box, these 5 Jews – 4 doctors and 1 engineer – used science, medicine and chutzpah to save lives.

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Israel Weinstein: Vaccinating 6.3 Million People in 4 Weeks

When smallpox infected New Yorkers in 1947, Dr. Israel Weinstein, the city’s Health Commissioner, instituted a mass vaccination campaign. He bought millions of doses to cover the city's shortage.

Thousands of volunteers inoculated eight people a minute. Within a month, 6,350,000 people were vaccinated – the largest vaccination program in history.

Ignaz Semmelweis: Washing Hands Kills Germs

In the 1840s in Vienna, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis noticed infection rates varied from ward to ward. He discovered that the crucial difference was how often doctors and nurses washed their hands.

His life-saving findings were ridiculed and ignored.

Dr. Semmelweis left Vienna and as head of a hospital in Pest, Hungary he instituted hand washing and saved thousands of lives. It took more than 20 years his ideas to be widely accepted.

Jonas Salk: Invented World’s First Polio Vaccine

Until the 1950s, polio afflicted 50,000 Americans each year, killing 3000 annually.

Dr. Salk's cutting-edge approach used dead polio cells taken from monkeys as a base for his vaccine. He developed a polio vaccine in 1954. It was tested on animals but officials were reluctant to allow human tests. So Dr. Salk injected his vaccine into himself – and his wife and children – with no ill effect.

Later that year, over a million children took part in a large-scale clinical trial.

On April 12, 1955, the vaccine was deemed “safe and effective”. Dr. Salk refused to profit from his vaccine, so it would remain inexpensive and available.

Henry Judah Heimlich: The Heimlich Maneuver

In the 1970s, choking was the 6th leading cause of death in the US.

Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, a Jewish thoracic surgeon in Cincinnati, developed a method of standing behind a choking person and thrusting upwards under their diaphragm, forcing air out of the lungs to clear blockages in the throat.

He published his advice in 1974 and was mocked and ignored. Dr. Heimlich took out ads across the country explaining his maneuver.

Within days, a man in Washington State used the Heimlich Maneuver to save his neighbor. A 5-year-old boy in Massachusetts saved a playmate after seeing the maneuver on tv. The Heimlich Maneuver became widespread, saving over 100,000 people.

Abel Wolman – Ensured Safe Drinking Water for Millions

Abel Wolman studied engineering in the early 1900s and worked for the Maryland State Health Department.

Waterborne diseases sickened many people annually. Chlorine was known to help kill germs but harmful in large doses, it was deemed too dangerous.

Abel Wolman experimented with chlorine, purifying Maryland’s water supplies, and perfected methods for cleaning water.

Typhoid cases plummeted by 92%. Deaths from untreated drinking water plunged to nearly nothing.

Wolman advised cities around the world and brought safe drinking water to millions of people.

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