Blood bank founder makes Oak Park's Wall of Fame

Dr. Fantus' work on blood preservation paved the way for modern era

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Betty White – Oak Park's most famous former residents – have new company on the wall of notable figures at Oak Park's village hall.

Enter Dr. Bernard Fantus, 80 years ago the director of therapeutics at Cook County Hospital and founder of the blood bank.

Fantus was added to the wall that runs along the second floor offices at village hall in recent weeks after Oak Park resident Alan Hoffstadter made the case for Fantus' contributions to the science of healthcare. Fantus lived in Oak Park from around 1920 until his death in 1940.

Fantus, whose blood bank in 1937 revolutionized medicine, was also a visionary on topics including children's medication and was a tireless advocate against fraudulent tonics and remedies that were poisoning patients.

Hoffstadter said in his letter to the village that Fantus was a "nationally known respected physician" who also wrote a column for the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Had that been his only accomplishment, I think it would be enough for the village to take ownership of him, but he was also instrumental in the establishment of the Illinois Medical District, a major attempt to eliminate ragweed from the city to reduce hay fever, the first ever 'candy flavoring' of various medications, which at the time were vile tasting and unpalatable to adults and children alike …" wrote Hoffstadter, a life-long blood banker.

Hoffstadter said Fantus' template for the first blood bank, which was adopted by hospitals worldwide, came at a time when blood was difficult to store for more than a few days. 

Direct person-to-person transfusions were the only method of transferring blood in the early 20th Century, and "the process of donating blood was so traumatic and potentially dangerous that often donors could not be found," according to a 2005 exhibit on Fantus by the University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center, which holds the Fantus archive.

After assuming the role of director of therapeutics in 1934, Fantus began building on the work of Alexis Carrel, who first safely stored blood in 1910. He discovered a method in the mid-1930s used by Soviet doctors to store cadaver blood for later use. 

Fantus opened his facility in 1937, changing the name from the Blood Preservation Laboratory to the Cook County Hospital Blood Bank in an effort to educate patients unnerved by the idea of using the refrigerated blood of others.

Fantus' blood bank came two years after physician John Silas Lundy began using refrigerated blood at the Mayo Clinic, but Fantus is credited with improving on the method, ultimately showing that blood could be stored for an unprecedented 10 days.

An obituary published in the Oak Leaves in 1940, notes that Fantus' blueprint for blood banks was adopted by more than 100 large hospitals across the country and was "a boon to indigent patients who are able to have blood administered a few minutes after arrival at the hospital."

The achievement has saved many lives and given Fantus international renown, the obituary notes.

While Fantus was best remembered as the father of the blood bank, he worked tirelessly writing numerous articles and books on health. One of his books, Candy Medication, in 1915, advocated for using sugar and other sweeteners to mask the terrible taste of medicine at the time. He was awarded an honorary member of the American Therapeutic Society in 1933 for his accomplishment.

Fantus served as president of an organization called the Medical Park in Chicago, which advocated for building a park in the area around Cook County Hospital, the University of Illinois, the Presbyterian Hospital and Rush Medical College. The area is now known as Pasteur Park.

The doctor also was a vocal proponent of the positive health effects of drinking carbonated beverages and an opponent of the consumption of alcohol. Fantus called prohibition "the best thing ever done by this nation, and as such should be fully supported by the physicians of the United States."

He also was a founding member and co-signer of the founding manifesto of the American Humanist Association.

The village's so-called Wall of Fame was established under former village manager Tom Barwin, village spokesman David Powers said in an email response to questions.

Powers said he does not believe there is a formal selection process for determining who makes it on the wall, adding that Village Manager Cara Pavlicek likely would be open to ideas for future additions. 

He said only one other person has been added since the original project -- Heisman Trophy winner John Lattner last fall at the recommendation of Village President Anan Abu-Taleb. 


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Posted: January 28th, 2015 8:25 AM

Bob was born in Oak Park. He actually lived in the Austin neighborhood.

Darryl from Middlebury, VT  

Posted: January 27th, 2015 4:14 PM

What about Bob Newhart...locally known as George?

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