Dinah Kohner (1936 - 1964):
Dinah Kohner was born in Brüx, Czechoslovakia (today, Most in the Czech Republic; both names mean "bridge") but the Kohners left the country in 1938 because of the crisis caused by German threats and settled in Belfast where her father worked for the clothing firm, Belart. Dinah attended Princess Gardens School, but like hundreds of Belfast children of school age, was evacuated to Carrowdore in the Ards Peninsula because of more German threats. On return to Belfast she attended Richmond Lodge School and had an impressive career there, where she was Head Girl, and where she won an essay writing competition on the theme of international understanding: building bridges, it could be said.
In 1953 she entered Queen's University, Belfast to study medicine, and graduated MB BCh BAO in 1959. Even in the twenty-first century, medical staff and students would remember her as an outstanding student. During her time at Queen's she was President of the Women's Student Residence at Riddel Hall, Stranmillis Road, and was awarded a Gold Medal by the Ulster Hospital, Belfast. On the extra-curricular side, she was very athletic, joining the mountaineering club and playing international lacrosse. After graduation she worked at the Royal Maternity Hospital and was awarded an international Rotary Club scholarship to the Harvard Medical School for 1960-1961. After this she was for a year a Fellow at the Boston Children's Hospital Medical Center. She also made contact with Project HOPE, an organisation whose acronymic name ("Health Opportunities for People Everywhere") became known throughout the world through it hospital ship, the SS Hope. Kohner, with her internationalist outlook and medical knowledge, especially with regard to children, an interest she pursued with a spell working as a senior registrar in the children's wing of the Whittington Hospital, London, was invited to join the Hope, then in Ecuador.
Kohner rapidly decided that the very high infant mortality rates in that country could be tackled at least in part by, amongst other things, proper nutrition and hygiene. One problem was that poor, rural (mainly Indian) Ecuadorians believed that infants were only able to fed breast milk, and Kohner found that ten-month-old infants were being fed anything else, from sugar water to toothpaste. Kohner set herself to an extensive round of trips through the country to educate the inhabitants simple techniques such as straining food, and pointing out that simple foods like beans and oranges contained vital nutrients perfectly adequate for infant nourishment. With her highly dynamic and highly winning personality she was able to recruit numerous volunteers: she had over 300, who ranged from US college students to a group consisting of a mixture of middle-class urban Ecuadorians, who normally would show no interest in the poor, and wives of foreign consuls. They would travel extensively round the country, giving talk to relevant groups and key individuals. In late summer the SS Hope was due to be refitted in New York before proceeding to West Africa, with Kohner on board. Kohner made another trip to southern Ecuador but while on a return flight from her plane crashed. She survived this and did rejoin the ship, but en route to New York she became seriously ill due to injuries sustained in the crash and died at Kinston University College Hospital, Jamaica.
Kohner was extremely highly regarded as well as personally liked and inspired by patients, colleagues and seniors. In 1966 the Rotary Club of Belfast initiated the Diana Kohner Fund at Queen's University, Belfast, which awards grants for research equipment, for the provision of technical assistance or for other expenses incurred in the prosecution of research in diseases of children.
|Born:||23 March 1936|
|Died:||12 September 1964|
Ulster Medical Journal 56, supplement, 8/1987; Chronicle Telegram, July 20, 1964; private information
© 2022 Ulster History Circle