February 15, 1880 in Paducah, Kentucky
November 28, 1958
The following is reprinted from the 1943 edition of CURRENT BIOGRAPHY and written prior to Dr. Bernheim's death in 1958.
Blood transfusion is now a fairly commonplace and simple procedure to which innumerable persons on the home and battle fronts all over the world owe their lives; neither the donor nor the recipient experiences the pain, fear, and discomfort which were involved in the procedure some three decades ago when it was a matter of surgery and generally used only when all else failed.
Its history, which in a sense is the "story of advancing civilization," has been told in ADVENTURE IN BLOOD TRANSFUSION (1942) by Dr. Bertram M. Bernheim, who is associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical School and one of the leading pioneers in the field of blood surgery and transfusion.
Bertram Moses Bernheim was born of Jewish parents on February 15, 1880 in Paducah, Kentucky. He is the son of Isaac Wolfe and Amanda (Uri) Bernheim. After attending grammar and secondary schools, both public and private, Bernheim took his undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, from which he was graduated with a B. A. degree in 1901. In the fall of that year he entered Johns Hopkins Medical School and in 1905 he received his Medical Degree. During the following year he continued to study surgery, doing postgraduate work in Europe. In 1908 he officially began his career in surgical research, evincing a special interest in the surgery of blood vessels, and in 1909 obtained a position as assistant in surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1913 Dr. Bernheim was made instructor in surgery and in 1914 he became an instructor in clinical surgery.
When the United States entered the First World War, Dr. Bernheim served with the medical division of the A. E. F. for nearly two years, with the rank of captain. He was one of the surgeons attached to the Johns Hopkins Hospital Base Unit and as such sailed for France in the first convoy of troops sent over. He landed at St. Nazaire in July 1917 and served as an operating surgeon in every battle, later becoming commanding officer of the Hopkins Hospital Unit known as Base Hospital No. 18, A. E. F. He was promoted to the rank of major and "received a citation for work done with four combat divisions." When the War was over Dr. Bernheim, "broken in health," returned to the United States. After a year in which he made a rapid recovery, he resumed his teaching and medical work.
Prior to the First World War, Dr. Bernheim had been interested chiefly in blood transfusion work and, besides being occupied with his own practice and his work at the medical school, he was frequently called in on special cases necessitating blood transfusions. ADVENTURE IN BLOOD TRANSFUSION, in which he tells the story for laymen, is an account of his personal struggles in this work as well as a history of the simplification of the procedure. This procedure he has divided into several periods: the first period, consisting of "very early, abortive, sporadic attempts to do blood transfusions"; the second period of direct transfusion; the third period of indirect transfusion of whole blood, "notable for the general recognition of the necessity for carrying out tests prior to transfusion"; the fourth period of indirect transfusion with the aid of anti-coagulants; and the fifth period of "indirect transfusion of blood plasma or serum."
In tracing the progress made in the simplification of the blood transfusion procedure through these five periods, Dr. Bernheim explains the method or methods used in each, and how the discoveries and improvements over old methods came about. He himself was responsible for devising a new method in the third period of the history of blood transfusion which was an improvement over the famous Lindeman or "needle" method. With the facilities of the Hunterian Laboratory for Experimental Surgery at his disposal Dr. Bernheim constructed a special metal tube "by which blood could be transferred rapidly and easily, and no skilled assistants whatsoever were required for the procedure." On October 9, 1915 a description of this method was published in the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION. "An improvement on former methods and requiring no operation, Dr. Bernheim and many others used it almost exclusively in blood transfusion work, and many interesting developments in the history of blood transfusion resulted from the use of it."
As the surgical work connected with blood transfusion decreased with the adoption of the needle method, Dr. Bernheim's interest in it also decreased, and he returned to one of his primary interests -- surgery. From 1914 to 1924, except for the interlude of war service, he served as an instructor in clinical surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and by ascending the professional and pedagogical ladder he became associate professor of surgery at Hopkins, a position which he has retained since 1934.
In conjunction with his teaching and his private practice Dr. Bernheim has written some fifty or more scientific papers on surgical subjects as well as several books -- SURGERY OF THE VASCULAR SYSTEM (1913); BLOOD TRANSFUSION, HEMORRHAGE AND THE ANAEMIAS (1917); and PASSED AS CENSORED (1918). Much interested in the services and medical problems of the medical profession in relation to itself, the people, and the Government, Dr. Bernheim also wrote MEDICINE AT THE CROSSROADS (1939). In it he describes the present-day medical setup, its faults and virtues, and discusses such problems as private practice, surgery, group practice, private and general hospitals.
Dr. Bernheim is especially concerned with the refusal of organized medicine to recognize or discuss the economic and social aspects of medicine. He was an original member of the "430 Committee of Physicians" which in November 1937 issued an open statement of which the first and basic principle was "that the health of the people is a direct concern of the Government." The A. M. A. took the attitude "that it was being grossly and unjustly attacked by a group of unthinking, renegade members." Dr. Bernheim finds this attitude a distressing one for several reasons -- namely that it shows a "lack of enlightened leadership and organization" in the A. M. A.; that apparently "a member or group of members haven't the right, in this country of all countries, to voice their opinions -- whether they agree with those of the Association or not"; that younger doctors of more flexible minds are not free to state their views on any subject contrary to those held by the "older men of fixed ideas" for fear of having deliberate professional difficulties put in their way. "We formerly stood very high in the public's estimation and we had their confidence in a way that was most heartening; but with the passing of time much of that faith has been destroyed. Yet we are better doctors than we ever were. ... If we hadn't been so certain that adequate medical care was available to all, and if, instead of assuming the attitude of 'let them come and get it,' we had of our own volition insisted that more and better facilities be provided, our position would not be what it is today."
Bernheim is a member of the A. M. A., and a founder of the American College of Surgeons and of the American Board of Surgery. By political affiliation he is an independent Democrat.
Dr. Bernheim is married to the former Hilda Hess Marcus. The Bernheim[s] have three children -- Minda, Isaac Wolfe, II, and Bertram, Jr. Both of the boys volunteered for service in the Second World War and are officers in the American Air Forces. Dr. Bernheim also volunteered his services for the War but was rejected because of his age. In addition to his regular practice and lectures given at the nurses' school of the Union Memorial Hospital, he has taken on extra work at the Johns Hopkins Medical School and examines draftees for Induction Station No. 6 in Baltimore as a special contribution to the war effort.
Works About Subject
AMERICAN MEDICAL DIRECTORY 1942; AMERICAN MEN OF SCIENCE 1938; Bernheim, B. M. ADVENTURE IN BLOOD TRANSFUSION 1942; WHO'S WHO IN AMERICA 1942-43; WHO'S WHO IN AMERICAN JEWRY 1938-39
Photo: Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.