Doctor, 81, honored for innovations

October 14, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA -- Dennis Burkitt believes in doing medicine "on the cheap."

As a physician in Uganda, he made artificial legs out of surplus plastic -- for about $6 each.

With free drugs he got from drug companies, he developed one of the first effective drug treatments for cancer -- saving the lives of 100,000 small children.

He spent almost no money to develop the once laughed-at -- but now accepted -- theory that modern people need more fiber in their diets.

Yesterday, the parsimonious Dr. Burkitt was named winner of the third annual Bower Award. The $373,000 prize, given by Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, is the richest U.S. award for science.

"I'm just a simple chap," the British scientist said upon being told of the award. "I'm not interested in money. I hope to give most of it away."

Pablo Rudomin, a Mexican scientist on the selection committee, said Dr. Burkitt has shown that "ingenuity and imagination" can count for a lot even when resources are limited.

The Bower Awards were made possible by a $7.5 million bequest to the institute by Henry Bower, a Philadelphia chemical manufacturer, who died in 1988.

Born in Northern Ireland in 1911, Dr. Burkitt lost an eye during a childhood fight. His tutor at Trinity College in London wrote his father that he doubted the young Burkitt would ever graduate.

Dr. Burkitt found the letter after his father's death. "My dad had scrawled on the top 'Keep this' because I believe he thought the don was underestimating his son."

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