Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle

Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg

It is 1919 and Elizabeth Hughes, the eleven-year-old daughter of America’s most-distinguished jurist and politician, Charles Evans Hughes, has been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. It is essentially a death sentence. The only accepted form of treatment – starvation – whittles her down to forty-five pounds skin and bones. Miles away, Canadian researchers Frederick Banting and Charles Best manage to identify and purify insulin from animal pancreases – a miracle soon marred by scientific jealousy, intense business competition and fistfights. In a race against time and a ravaging disease, Elizabeth becomes one of the first diabetics to receive insulin injections – all while its discoverers and a little known pharmaceutical company struggle to make it available to the rest of the world.

Relive the heartwarming true story of the discovery of insulin as it’s never been told before. Written with authentic detail and suspense, and featuring walk-ons by William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Eli Lilly himself, among many others.

As the parent of a child (now adult) with type 1 diabetes, there is no greater story to be told than that of the discovery of insulin. Breakthrough offers a new, richly detailed and deeply personal perspective of one young girl — Elizabeth Hughes — and her family’s struggle to keep her alive on a starvation diet so that she might one day enjoy a miracle — the discovery of insulin. I cannot help but feel our family in place of the Hughes family, sharing their emotions as they watch their daughter waste away, learn about the “Miracle in Toronto,” and do whatever it takes to get Elizabeth insulin so that she might be saved. Breakthrough brings a new emotional depth to what for many of us is truly the greatest story ever told. For pure historians, the authors have taken some liberties with some specifics in the interest of the story, but this is no work of fiction. Breakthrough is a must have addition to the library of everyone living with type 1 diabetes. Highly Recommended.

Published by St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-64870-1. Hardcover, 306 pages. US$24.99.2010

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