May 26, 2024

Columbus Post

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Radithor: Radiation therapy killed Eben Byers

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Radioactives RadithorAfter Eben Byers swallowed Radithor, he was buried in a lead coffin

Fate has long been kind to Eben Byers. Then he injured his hand and things went downhill for him. Because the medicine he took for pain was highly radioactive.

Fee Anabelle Riebeling
Van
  • Eben Byers, once a successful businessman and athlete, suffered severe radium poisoning from the wonder drug Radithor.

  • After a fall, Byers, on the advice of his physical therapist, began consuming radium, which despite its radium content was considered harmless.

  • His suffering ended in death.

Eben Byers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, lived the good life: Born in 1880, he grew up in a wealthy family, studied at Yale, and joined the Girard Iron Company, which he later managed. He also assumed the chairmanship of family-owned AM Buyers. He also worked in other big companies. In his spare time, Byers enjoyed participating in sports. Played racquetball and tennis. As an amateur golfer, he also achieved some notable victories. He also competed in horse racing and owned racing stables in the United States and England. But in 1927, an accident occurred that changed Byers' life forever.

A sleeping car accident

On the way home from the Harvard-Yale football game, Byers fell from the top bunk of a sleeper car and injured his arm. His physiotherapist Charles Clinton Moyer prescribed Radithor, a tonic for pain and general strengthening. Byers followed Moyer's advice and soon felt better. Believing in the positive effect of Radither, Byers did not stop using it, but continued to use it conscientiously. Loud “New York Times” In the years since the accident, he swallowed the contents of “two or three bottles of 60 milliliters each” every day.

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Radiation side effects

After a few months, the feeling of well-being gave way to health problems: At first, Byers complained of stabbing headaches, nausea and vomiting. In 1930 his teeth started falling out. This was accompanied by severe jaw pain. According to New York x-ray expert Joseph Manning Steiner, the symptoms are similar to those of the “radium girls” who painted dials with radioactive paint in the studios of the American Radium Corporation and poisoned themselves in the process. “Time Magazine” After Byers' death in 1932. Byers confirmed that Manning Steiner had radium poisoning.

This is how Eben Byers was poisoned with radium

Byers had recorded radioactive material himself – with a radiator. All in all he hoped to improve his health. It is well known that ratite contains radium. But at the time it was considered a miracle cure (see box).

Radium – “Greatest Discovery in History”

The discovery of the radioactive element radium in 1898 was quickly hailed as “the greatest discovery in history.” Despite the high price – a gram costs about US$2.2 million in today's money – the demand is huge: in many places it is hailed as a miracle cure that saves lives and improves health. It is used for a wide range of ailments, from gout and constipation to hay fever and even as an erectile dysfunction drug. It is added to foods, clothing and cosmetics. There were also foods and condoms containing radium. Some women paint their fingernails “dark”.

An obituary in the New York Times says of radither: “It was previously thought that the liquid contained such small amounts of soluble radium salts that it was harmless.” In Byers' case, however, small amounts of salt were absorbed through the blood vessels and “destroyed the bones.”

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“It was previously thought that the fluid contained a small amount of soluble radium salts that were harmless.”

From a 1932 New York Times article

The jaw was removed, and there were no teeth

Investigations into the suspected connection followed Manning Steiner's suspicions. Byers also interviewed. Lawyer Robert Hiner Wynn said of his encounter with her: “It's hard to imagine a more horrific experience in such a wonderful environment.” Met Byers at Winn's house.

“You can still be young and mentally alert [Byers] rarely speak. His head was bandaged.

Robert Hiner Wynn, Attorney at Law

His further description sounds like something out of a horror movie: “Still young and mentally, I can [Byers] rarely speak. His head was bandaged. He underwent two consecutive surgeries in which his entire upper jaw and most of his lower jaw were removed except for two front teeth.

Eben Byers: Buried in a lead coffin

Byers spent the last month of his life in a hospital in Manhattan. He died there on March 31, 1932. An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be cancer. It pierced his bones and led to pus forming on his brain. According to media reports, about 36 micrograms of radium, a “lethal level”, were found in his bones. Byers was buried in a coffin made of lead because his remains continued to emit radiation.

Byers legacy

As sad as Byers' fate was, it did good things. This is how the case was conducted legally. As a result, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given more powers and radioactive “cures” increasingly disappeared from the market.

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