Did you know that in 1925 a dog sled carrying life-saving diphtheria anti-toxin arrived in Nome, Alaska? The only hospital in the area had run out of the serum. People were dying. The town was icebound and only accessible by dogsled. 20 mushers (dog sled drivers) and 150 sled dogs participated in the “Great Race of Mercy” that carried the serum 674 miles in 5 ½ days. The trip crossed the Alaskan wilderness and the shifting ice of the Bering Sea and normally took 25 days. The mushers faced blizzards and wind chills of -85 F. This heroic effort saved the town of Nome and the surrounding area from a deadly epidemic.
We hope that you have an inquisitive day at school today. Remember to think kind thoughts, use kind words, and do kind things. We Love You.
Curtis Welch was the only doctor in Nome and the surrounding communities. After he had discovered that the hospital’s entire store of diphtheria antitoxin, he ordered a new supply, but it did not arrive before the ports were closed by winter. When it was the diphtheria outbreak was evident, Welch sent out a plea for aid, for 1 million units of the anti-toxin.
Some solutions involved trying to fly the serum to the area, but the planes were unreliable in cold weather and the pilots were not in Alaska at the time.
1.1 million units of serum were found collected from West Coast hospitals and sent to Seattle, and then onward to Alaska . On January 26th, 300,000 units, that had been forgotten, were found in Anchorage.
Doctors predicted that the serum would only last about 6 days through the punishing conditions of the trail. The units from Anchorage were wrapped in glass vials, padded quilts, and a metal cylinder. The package weighed about 20 pounds. All vials made the trip intact.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has many traditions that honor the race to deliver the serum to Nome. A statue of Balto, the lead sled dog that brought the serum into the town of Nome, is located in Central Park in New York City.
A reenactment of the serum race in 1975 took 6 days longer than the original 1925 race.
Click here for a list of the heroic mushers and descriptions of the conditions they traveled through.