seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.

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Birth of Professor James Francis “Frank” Pantridge

frank-pantridgeProfessor James Francis “Frank” Pantridge, physician and cardiologist from Northern Ireland, is born in Hillsborough, County Down, on October 3, 1916. Pantridge transforms emergency medicine and paramedic services with the invention of the portable defibrillator.

Pantridge is educated at Friends’ School Lisburn and Queen’s University Belfast, graduating in medicine in 1939. During World War II he serves in the British Army and is commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps as a lieutenant on April 12, 1940. He is awarded the Military Cross during the Fall of Singapore, when he becomes a POW. He serves much of his captivity as a slave labourer on the Burma Railway. When he is freed at the end of the war, Pantridge is emaciated and has contracted cardiac beriberi. He suffers from ill-health related to the disease for the remainder of his life.

After Pantridge’s liberation he works as a lecturer in the pathology department at Queen’s University, and then wins a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he studies under Dr. F.N. Wilson, a cardiologist and authority on electrocardiography.

Pantridge returns to Northern Ireland in 1950 and is appointed as cardiac consultant to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast and professor at Queen’s University, where he remains until his retirement in 1982. There he establishes a specialist cardiology unit whose work becomes well known.

By 1957, Pantridge and his colleague, Dr. John Geddes, introduce the modern system of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for the early treatment of cardiac arrest. Further study leads Pantridge to the realization that many deaths result from ventricular fibrillation which needs to be treated before the patient is admitted to hospital. This leads to his introduction of the mobile coronary care unit (MCCU), an ambulance with specialist equipment and staff to provide pre-hospital care.

To extend the usefulness of early treatment, Pantridge goes on to develop the portable defibrillator, and in 1965 installs his first version in a Belfast ambulance. It weighs 70 kg and operates from car batteries. By 1968 he has designed an instrument weighing only 3 kg, incorporating a miniature capacitor manufactured for NASA.

His work is backed up by clinical investigations and epidemiological studies in scientific papers, including an influential 1967 The Lancet article. With these developments, the Belfast treatment system, often known as the “Pantridge Plan”, becomes adopted throughout the world by emergency medical services. The portable defibrillator becomes recognised as a key tool in first aid, and Pantridge’s refinement of the automated external defibrillator (AED) allows it to be used safely by members of the public.

Although he is known worldwide as the “Father of Emergency Medicine,” Frank Pantridge is less acclaimed in his own country, and is saddened that it takes until 1990 for all front-line ambulances in the United Kingdom to be fitted with defibrillators.

He died in Hillsborough at the age of 88 on Boxing Day, December 26, 2004. He never married.