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Organizacion Autentica

Dr. Carlos J. Finlay

Biographical Notes by Dr. Juan Guiteras

Carlos Juan Finlay was born in the city of Puerto Principe (now Camaguey), in the Island of Cuba, on the 3rd of December, 1833. His father was Edward, a Scotch physician, and his mother, Isabel de Barres a native of France. Like another great Antillean, Alexander Hamilton, he was born of two great races, the Scotch and the French.

While he was still in his infancy the family moved to Havana where the boy grew to his eleventh year, residing at times in the Capital, and at times in Guanimar where his father owned one of the coffee plantations which made the country about Alquizar famous for its wealth and beauty. We can well imagine that the life of young Finlay in the open awakened his love for the study of Nature. He received at the same time his school education at the hands of his aunt Anna who had given up a school she kept in Edinburgh to reside with her brother.

In 1844 Carlos was sent to France and studied in a school at the Havre until 1846 when he had to return to Cuba on account of an attack of cholera. This disease left him with a serious stoppage in his speech which was cured after a careful course of training instituted by his father. We notice to this day, however, a peculiar slowness and confusion in the enunciation of ideas through articulate speech, a defect that seems to be rather mental and in some way connected with his very decided absentmindedness.

He returned to Europe in 1848 to complete his education in France, but the revolutionary movements of that year obliged him to remain for a short time in London, and during one year in a school at Mentz on the Rhine. He entered college at last in Rouen where he continued his studies until 1851 when he returned to Cuba to convalesce from an attack of typhoid fever. The Spanish law at the time would not validate for the degree of Bachelor in Arts, the college courses followed in France, and he came to Philadelphia where the said degree was not necessary for the study of Medicine.

He graduated in Medicine on the 10th of March 1855 from the Jefferson Medical College, the same institution which had contributed to the development of the genius of Marion Sims and of Brown-Sequard. Of the members of that distinguished Faculty, the one who seems to have the most profoundly influenced the mind of our student, was John Kearsly Mitchell, the first to maintain systematically the germ theory of disease. The son of Professor Mitchell, Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, famous today as physician and author, then recently arrived from the laboratories of Claude Bernard, was the private preceptor of the Cuban student, and a bond of friendship that has endured to this day, was established between them. "I endeavored, Dr. Mitchell writes me, in vain to persuade Finlay, who was three years a student in my office "was my first student" to settle in New York where there were many Spaniards and many Cubans. Fortunately he made up his mind not to take my advice".

Dr. Finlay incorporated his diploma in the University of Havana in 1857, and began the practice of his profession.

The spirit of adventure prevails in the Finlay family, as I have heard the Doctor say. His father practiced medicine in various places and countries, and one of his uncles was a follower of Bolivar in the war for independence in South America. The life of our Finlay shows to some extent the same tendency. Recently graduated, in 1856, he went to Lima, Peru, with his father to court success in medical practice; he returned to Cuba, but once again the experiment was tried for a few months in the following year with the same results. In 1860-61 we find him in Paris following the hospital clinics and taking up some special studies. In 1864 he endeavored for a few months to establish himself in practice in the then flourishing city of Matanzas, not far from Havana. Wherever he went he took up the practice of general Medicine specializing somewhat in ophthalmic surgery.

On the 16th of October 1865, he married, in the city of Havana, Miss Adela Shine, a native of the Island of Trinidad, and a gifted woman who has faithfully and tenderly taken an active interest in all his endeavors. They have founded a family much esteemed in the social circles of Havana.

Dr. Finlay traveled once more in 1869 to visit for a few months the former home of his wife in the Island of Trinidad, and again in 1875 he visited New York in search of professional advice for Mrs. Finlay.

In 1881 he went to Washington representing the colonial Government of Cuba at the International Sanitary Conference. He chose this occasion to make public for the first time his views on the transmission of yellow fever by an intermediary agent.

At the breaking out of the Cuban-Spanish-American war, Dr. Finlay, who was then 65 years old, went to Washington to offer his services to the American Government, and insisted with his friend Dr. Sternberg, the Surgeon-General of the Army, to be sent to the field. He took part in the campaign around Santiago where he did not fail to speak, as he ever did when the opportunity offered, of the benefits that might be obained if his theories were accepted.

On his return to Havana, in 1898, he brought his views to the attention of the Army medical officers, the Government, and the medical Press in the United States. He wrote at the time a complete plan of campaign against the yellow fever on the same lines, which were subsequently followed with the brilliant results now familiar to all of us.

The writer of these notes can never forget the impression made upon him by the manner of Dr. Finlay in receiving the Commissions that came to Cuba, taking advantage of the new order of things, to study Tropical diseases. Full of generous enthusiasm he would explain his views and show his copious notes, his records, his experiments, his apparatus, his mosquitoes, and would offer himself to assist in any kind of experiments that might be undertaken.

Drs. H. E. Durham and Walter Myers, commissioned by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine for the study of yellow fever in Brazil, stopped for a few days in Havana on their way to that country. Dr. Durham in one of his reports states: << It is incontestable that Dr. Charles Finlay of Havana, was the first to undertake direct experiments to substantiate his ideas of the part played by the mosquito in the transmission of yellow fever. His method was to feed the mosquitoes upon yellow fever patients (not later than the sixth day), and then after an interval of from forty-eight hours to four or five days to allow them to feed upon susceptible persons; the idea was to produce a slight attack of the fever in order to produce immunity>>.


The U.S. Army Medical Commission met with the same reception. Dr. Finlay handed them the mosquitoes with which they commenced the experiments that were definitely to prove the theories he had been maintaining for the last twenty years. With what generous interest he followed the experiments of this Commission, recognizing freely the incompleteness of his own procedures, admiring with an almost infantile candor the new methods in bacteriological technique, and the demonstrative results that were developing! His admiration extended from the work itself, with affectionate demonstrations, to the men who were engaged in it, the members of the Commission and the men who submitted to the experiments.

In 1902, upon the expiration of the first American intervention, the Cuban Government, at the suggestion of Dr. Diego Tamayo, Secretary of the Interior, did justice to our illustrious compatriot, appointing him Chief Health Officer and President of the Superior Board of Health. Since this date Dr. Finlay left the Island on several occasions to attend various meetings on sanitary matters in the ..that fevers were produced by the bites of mosquitoes, and the writings of Nott, Beauperthuy and King. He who follows these authors chronologically, may imagine from the outward show of scientific apparel, that he is progressing in a vicious circle that brings him back to the negroes of Africa and to nothing practical. No one of them touches the keystone of the problem the transmission of the parasite from the sick to the well. It may appear for a moment that Dr. Beauparthuy strikes out of this circle, and that he brings forward, out of the gossamer of his wild fancies a fact, when he speaks of the mosquito a pattes rayees de blanc, tha zancudo bobo. But a careful study of his work will show that his mosquito was not the Stegomyia, and that he does not anywhere state that it is the agent in the production of yellow fever. On the contrary, he excludes the mosquito because of its domestic habits, precisely the motive that induced Dr. Finlay to select it as the intermediary host of the yellow fever parasite.

The Frenchman was imagining something that might bring the infection from decomposing matter in swamps, the Cuban saw the transmission from man to man: the former was chimera, the latter was the truth.Our debt to Dr. Finlay is not to be found in the field of yellow fever investigations alone. His inventive genius discovered, or at least gave a practical method for the solution of the problem of infantile tetanus. In the year 1903 Dr. Finlay fixed his attention on this important subject, and with admirable precision had the bacteriologist, Dr. Davalos examine the common wick that was generally employed for the ligature of the umbilical cord. This was found to be a specially favorite nidus for tetanus bacilli.

In that same year Dr. Finlay conceived his idea of the aseptic package for the treatment of the umbilical cord. This package has since been given out gratis to the poor by the Health Department of Cuba with the result that the mortality from infantile tetanus has fallen from 1313 in the year 1902 to 576 in 1910.

Dr. Finlay's capacity for work is extraordinary. In the midst of the labors of active practice, and the frequent production of papers on various medical subjects in which he generally proves himself to be ahead of his compatriots, as may be seen in his writings on filaria and cholera, he would find time, for instance, to decipher an old Latin manuscript, with the necessary gathering of data from historic, heraldic, and philologic sources, to prove that the old Bible in which the manuscript appears was owned by the emperor Charles V.; or he takes up problems in higher mathematics, in chess, in philology; or he elaborates complicated and original theories of the cosmos in which the spiral oscillating motion, and the properties of colloid substances play an important part. More recently, in the midst of the harassing occupations of a great administrative office, and when he had passed his seventieth year, he masters the complicated subject of immunity and the theories of Metchnikoff, Ehrlich, Buchner and others, presenting his own conception of the intricate problem.Very recently, in 1907, his appointment to represent Cuba in the Berlin meeting of the Congress of Hygiene and Demography, which he did not attend, spurred the old energies to the revival of studies upon the influence of temperature upon the spread of yellow fever through its action on the habits of the mosquito. This was the last production before the gifted mind began to cloud in 1909.

The great work of Finlay may be expressed in very few words: He discovered the fact that yellow fever is transmitted by the bite of one species of mosquito, and he invented a sure method for the extinction of the disease. On contemplating the benefits that humanity has reaped from the labors of our compatriot we were led to exclaim at the meeting of our last Medical Congress: "Great as our satisfaction must be, how much greater must be that of the man, illustrious as he is modest, who has made all this possible through a mental effort equaled by very few in the history of the human mind".


Gerry ---


Cuba, España y los Estados Unidos | Organización Auténtica | Política Exterior de la O/A | Temas Auténticos | Líderes Auténticos | Figuras del Autenticismo | Símbolos de la Patria | Nuestros Próceres | Martirologio |

Presidio Político de Cuba Comunista | Costumbres Comunistas | Temática Cubana | Brigada 2506 | La Iglesia | Cuba y el Terrorismo | Cuba - Inteligencia y Espionaje | Cuba y Venezuela | Clandestinidad | United States Politics | Honduras vs. Marxismo | Bibliografía | Puentes Electrónicos |

Organización Auténtica