Bruce Robertson Banner online exhibit

A Pioneer in Blood Transfusion


“[Lawrence Bruce Robertson] had already made such valuable original contributions to science that he was known in the medical literature of every language.”

- Address by Dr. Edward W. Gallie to the Academy of Medicine, Toronto, at the first meeting after the death of Dr. L. Bruce Robertson


Bruce became interested in the recent developments in blood transfusion during his time in New York, and in 1913, he performed the first blood transfusion ever done by the modern method in the Hospital for Sick Children, and possibly in Canada.
As a war surgeon, he performed countless blood transfusions, saving the lives of severely wounded men who had almost bled to death. Bruce brought his own transfusion apparatus from Canada and provided many demonstrations for the British and Canadian medical units, who then adopted his method.  

L Bruce Robertson beside Canadian Red Cross truck, ca. 1914-1918
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L. Bruce Robertson beside Canadian Red Cross truck, ca. [1914-1918]
L. Bruce Robertson fonds, F 1374, Archives of Ontario, I0050290

If You Cannot Give a Life, You Can Save a Life, [ca. 1914-1918]
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If You Cannot Give a Life, You Can Save a Life, [ca. 1914-1918]
Archives of Ontario War Poster Collection, C 233, Archives of Ontario, I0016378


The Transfusion of Whole Blood
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The Transfusion of Whole Blood: A Suggestion for its More Frequent Employment in War Surgery (Cover), July 8, 1916
L. Bruce Robertson fonds, F 1374, Archives of Ontario, I0073487


Letter from Gunner F. Birditt to L. Bruce Robertson, July 22, 1917
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Letter from Gunner F. Birditt to L. Bruce Robertson, July 22, 1917
L. Bruce Robertson fonds, F 1374, Archives of Ontario, I0073476

I should like to know Sir if the patient (I acted as blood donor for) is recovering alright.

-Gunner F. Birditt – July 22, 1917


War diaries - 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, 1915-1919
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War diaries - 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, 1915-1919
War Diaries of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada

The work of Major Robertson, surgeon specialist of this unit, has been of an exceptionally high order. As one of the chief and early advocates of Blood Transfusion he has so popularized this method of resuscitation that it has become one of first importance in C.C.S. work. He himself is recognized among consulting surgeons and surgeon specialists as an authority in the method of carrying it out and his results in this C.C.S. have been little short of marvellous.

- 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station War Diary­ – July 17, 1917

Bruce published his findings in Canadian, British and American medical journals, in which he described cases that he had treated at the front. Some of these cases can be matched to letters that Bruce received from his patients during their recovery.

Letter from A. C. Tayler to L. Bruce Robertson, August 14, 1917
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Letter from A. C. Tayler to L. Bruce Robertson, August 14, 1917
L. Bruce Robertson fonds, F 1374, Archives of Ontario, I0073477, I0073478

On the 13th June you took my leg off above the knee, and until I received blood from someone else you considered the betting about 3 to 1 on my pegging out […] Can you find time to let me know the name and address of the man who gave me blood? I should much like to write to him.

- A. C. Tayler – August 14, 1917

L. Bruce Robertson,“Further Observations On The Results Of Blood Transfusion In War Surgery
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L. Bruce Robertson,“Further Observations on the Results of Blood Transfusion in War Surgery, with Special Reference to the Results in Primary Haemorrhage,” reprinted from the British Medical Journal, November 24, 1917 (page 8).
L. Bruce Robertson fonds, F 1374, Archives of Ontario, I0073489

“CASE 22: […] Pte. F. McL. Admitted July 4th, 1917. Had been buried by a shell seven hours previously. Was in a condition of shock and collapse from intra-abdominal injury and fracture of femur. Anti-shock measures for some hours produced slight improvement. […] Blood transfusion (1,C00 c.cm.). Before transfusion: pulse 180; blood pressure: systolic 80, diastolic 40. After transfusion: pulse 140; blood pressure: systolic 185, diastolic 80. […] Evacuated to base in two weeks. Four weeks after operation a note was received from the base stating that the patient was in excellent condition and recovery seemed assured.”


Letter from Finlay McLean to L. Bruce Robertson, October 11, 1917
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Letter from Finlay McLean to L. Bruce Robertson, October 11, 1917
L. Bruce Robertson fonds, F 1374, Archives of Ontario, I0073483, I0073484

My abdominal wounds have all healed up now, and it is about three weeks since I got a dressing on. […] Well, Sir, I must thank you again for what you did for me at the C.C.S. [Casualty Clearing Station] I won’t forget the kindness and attention shown to me by yourself & your staff.
-Finlay McLean – 1917


Upon his return to the Hospital for Sick Children in 1918, Bruce further investigated the possibilities of blood transfusion, specifically in drawing toxic blood out of young children who had been burned and replacing it with pure blood. After his untimely death, it was reported that this successful method would be known as “the Bruce Robertson Method.”

Blood Transfusion in Severe Burns in Infants and Young Children (Cover), October 1921
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Blood Transfusion in Severe Burns in Infants and Young Children (Cover), October 1921
L. Bruce Robertson fonds, F 1374, Archives of Ontario, I0073488


Exsanguination – Transfusions: A New Therapeutic Measure in the Treatment of Severe Toxemias (Cover)
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Exsanguination – Transfusion: A New Therapeutic Measure in the Treatment of Severe Toxemias (Cover), by L. Bruce Robertson, reprinted from the Archives of Surgery, July 1924, Vol. 9, pp. 1-15
L. Bruce Robertson fonds, F 1374, Archives of Ontario, I0073490

In this Exhibit -