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Dr. Alvin Zipursky - recognized by the Government of Canada with the Order of Canada in 2012

By GERRY POSNER

This coming fall the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada will ibe releasing a new book about the history of Jewish physicians in Manitoba.
It will be a very comprehensive look at Jewish physicians who can trace their origins to Manitoba and who practiced at least five years in the province.
I am confident that the book will confirm the notion that Manitoba produced some splendid Jewish doctors.

 

 

 

 

One hesitates to pick the top one or even try to rank them as that is like trying to compare sports stars in a given sport and era. It is impossible.
Still, I am entering the name of a former Winnipeg doctor who has made a serious contribution to the world of medicine as one who must be saluted. Many women all over the world can thank him - if not totally, at least in part for saving the lives of their babies who were born with RH negative blood. I refer to Dr. Alvin Zipursky.

What is RH Disease you might ask? The definition is Rhesus (named after the Rhesus Monkey) Hemolytic Disease if that helps. If you are under 50 and are reading this piece, you likely have never heard of this illness as you have been protected from it.

Ed. note: The following is taken from the Internet:
“Rh disease is a newborn health condition that's caused by an incompatibility between your blood type and your baby's. Here's the gist: Most people have Rh-positive blood, meaning that they produce an Rh protein on the surface of their red blood cells. But about 15 percent of Caucasian women and about seven percent of African-American women don't produce this Rh protein on their red blood cells -- they're Rh-negative. Rh disease can occur if you are Rh-negative, but your baby is Rh-positive, which can happen if the baby's dad has Rh-positive genes and the baby inherits them.
“If this is the case, your unborn baby's Rh-positive red blood cells can enter your bloodstream through the placenta. This can trigger your body to view these strange cells as intruders and make antibodies to fight them, which is known as sensitization. This can lead to complications for your baby like anemia, jaundice, or in rare cases even brain damage.”

 

In the 1960s, however a system was developed for preventing RH Disease, at least in more affluent nations of the world, including Canada. It was partly as a reult of a paper Alvin Zipursky wrote in 1959 when he was a research fellow in Winnipeg that eventually a successful treatment for RH Disease was developed.
And Zip (the name people call him) will say that this paper jolted him into action for the rest of his career.
He had graduated from the University of Manitoba Medical School, married, went to Salt Lake City and Cincinnati for short periods and then returned to work as a clinician and scientist at the University of Manitoba focusing on blood diseases in children.

Interestingly enough, he was able to obtain some funding for his work from Playtex Park, a girdle company. His research was published in the prestigious journal, The Lancet.
At that time, related to his studies, medical researchers in Liverpool and New York undertook studies to prevent RH Disease.
Zip helped to created in Winnipeg a programme for the prevention of RH disease. Working with him were Dr. Bruce Chown and Dr. Jack Bowman of the RH laboratory. Dr. Chown was already well known for his work in the field.
It was not long before a vaccine known as WinRho was developed. (The “Win” in WinRho stands for Winnipeg.)

Zipursky had an opportunity late in his 30s to move to Hamilton, and become the Chair of the Paediatric Department at McMaster University.
He later left Hamilton and came to Toronto where he became the head of Hematology and Oncology at the Hospital for Sick Kids
In the 1990s, when Alvin was at retirement age, he turned his attention to addressing what he perceived was a global issue- eradicating RH Disease in the entire world.
He decided, along with another physician from Stanford University, to establish the Consortium for Universal RH Disease Eradication.
He undertook pilot projects in India and Ghana to test whether or not RH disease could be screened and prevented in such places. The answer was that it could.
It is in the underdeveloped world where Zip has made his greatest contributions as this illness threatens close to 100,000 babies a year.

It would be hard to quantify the number of lives Zip has had a hand in saving. In appreciation of his outstanding efforts and attention to this world wide problem, Dr. Alvin Zipursky was recognized by the Government of Canada with the Order of Canada in 2012. He made all the many Zipurskys around the world (likely all related) very proud of Winnipeg’s native son.
Zip, a widower, formerly married to the late Freda Cohen and father to three sons, all stars in their own right, is still working diligently at age 88. He thrives in his work and the citizens of this country and beyond are all the richer for his efforts.

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