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Norman Bethune

Updated on December 1, 2016

Norman Bethune was a Canadian surgeon who became a national hero in China because of his medical service with the Red Army. Born Henry Norman Bethune, in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada, March 1890. Upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Bethune interrupted his medical studies to join the Canadian army. Seriously wounded in 1915, Bethune was sent home. After completing his medical studies, he enlisted in the British navy as a surgeon and later transferred to the Canadian Flying Corps. After the war, Bethune practiced medicine first in London, England, and then in Detroit, Michigan. From 1928 to 1936 he worked in Montreal, Canada, becoming well known as a specialist in lung surgery and as an inventor of instruments proved useful in chest surgery. In 1936, Bethune went to Spain as a surgeon with the Loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. In Spain he established the first mobile blood-transfusion units for field use. In 1938, Bethune went to China, where he served as a doctor for the Communist Eighth Route Army. He died of blood poisoning contracted while performing an operation in northern China on November 13, 1939.


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