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The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl,…
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The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes, and the Discovery of Insulin

by Caroline Cox

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The Fight to Survice details Elizabeth Evans Hughes' struggle with diabetes as a young woman and the discovery of insulin by Canadian researchers in the 1920s.

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Cox, C. (2009). The fight to survive: A young girl, diabetes, and the discovery of insulin. New York, NY: Kaplan Publishing.

Grades 9 and up. Elizabeth Evan Hughes was the daughter of Secretary of State Charles Evan Hughes. Elizabeth used to be an active, joyful, and healthy eleven-year-old. In fall 1918, her mother notices some unusual signs. When Elizabeth comes home from birthday parties, she is extremely thirsty and tired. Elizabeth constantly urinates and begins to lose weight. Diabetes specialist Frederick Allen then discovers that Elizabeth has type I juvenile diabetes. At this point, Elizabeth is faced with a tough decision: she could continue eating regularly and die soon. Or she could starve and live longer. Her parents decide that Elizabeth should receive starvation therapy. On this type of diet, Elizabeth eats small portions of food (sometimes only receiving 400 calories a day). If there are any traces of sugar in her urine, she must cut back her food intake. By 1922 Elizabeth only weighed 45 pounds; she looked emaciated; her skin was dry and flaky; her hair was brittle; and she could barely walk. When all seems lost, the invention of insulin changes her life completely.

The Fight to Survive is a poignant story. Readers will be encouraged by Elizabeth’s dogged determination to remain connected to others, read, write, and observe nature. At times, the book goes on tangents by describing the personal lives of the different researchers of insulin or by explaining Charles Evan Hughes’s political affairs. However, the book is still powerful. It also describes the difficulties in trying to mass produce insulin and find the right consistency. The Fight to Survive could be used to teach lessons about diabetes, insulin, or perseverance. I highly recommend this book for a high school library. ( )
  ewang109 | Dec 2, 2010 |
In the early 20th century, diabetes was a much less common disease than it is today. It's a good thing, because there was no cure or treatment, and meant certain death to its victims.

11-year-old Elizabeth Hughes was one of these victims, and her wealthy parents knew she would die, but nonetheless found the most knowledgeable doctors for her. The most advanced treatment, advised by the best physicians, involved monitoring the intake of the patient's food--in other words, starvation!

As Elizabeth lay dying (5 feet tall, 45 lbs) researchers in Canada were closing in on the discovery and manufacture of insulin. Would they be successful? Would it be in time to save Elizabeth's life?

Not only is this an interesting story of diabetes and the effect it had on its victims, but the author explains in great detail the way the wealty of the time lived. Nothing is too good for the daughter of the US Secretary of State. Too hot in Washington DC? She and her full-time nurse were sent off to summer in Bermuda. Much of Elizabeth's story is told through letters to her mother, and this also was an eye-opener. Children today don't write letters--how will we know how they spend their time and what they are thinking?

All in all, this was a much more enjoyable read than I had anticipated. The three legs that kept it stable were the dying girl, the race for the cure, and the life of the wealthy in 1920. ( )
  alexann | Jan 21, 2010 |
The girl is very Pollyanna-ish, but that was the culture of her time, and her suffering was as horrible as the cure was amazing. ( )
  picardyrose | Oct 18, 2009 |
This book was fascinating and there was much more to the story of Elizabeth Hughes than I had ever heard before. I thought at first that because she was the daughter of a famous father she was "given" insulin early but that isn't the way history unfolds. Of course money and fame played a huge part in where she stayed and what she did for diversion from thoughts of food. The other half of the story, about the actual discovery of insulin, is portrayed right along beside the time line when Elizabeth is essentially starving to death. The book goes back and forth between the two happenings. The group of four---Banting and Best, being the two most of us think of first when it comes to "insulin,"---really had some heated and emotional upheavals along the way. It's also rather amazing to think of how any of the group could have been killed in World War I -- or have taken other job offers. It just happened to work and they were first, an extremely fortunate event for Elizabeth who met Banting when she weighed barely 45 pounds. A really good book!! ( )
  nyiper | Aug 31, 2009 |
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