Henri Joseph Breault, medical doctor, anti-poisoning advocate (born 4 March 1909 in Tecumseh, ON; died 5 September 1983 in Exeter, ON). Breault is known for spearheading a national campaign to prevent accidental childhood poisonings. He advocated for the development of the Palm-N-Turn, a safety cap that drastically reduced child deaths due to poisoning in Canada and around the world.
Early Life and Medical Career
Born in Tecumseh, Ontario, Henri J. Breault suffered the loss of his mother. He was raised in boarding schools from the age of 11. Breault pursued his medical education at the University of Western Ontario, where he received his MD in 1936. Breault completed an internship in pediatrics at Hôtel-Dieu Hospital (now Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare) (see also Hôtel-Dieu), a hospital in Windsor, Ontario. He completed his internship at Hôtel-Dieu and his residency in Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Michigan. In 1939, Breault established a private medical practice in Windsor.
In 1957, Breault became the chief of pediatrics at Hôtel-Dieu Hospital (now Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare). There, he handled frequent cases of children accidentally poisoned at home by medicines and other hazardous products in easy-to-open containers. On average, there were approximately 1,000 cases and one fatality annually in Windsor due to the poisonings. The growing problem motivated Breault to assist in the establishment of a poison control centre at the hospital, opening in 1957. As the centre’s first director, Breault initiated an educational campaign in Windsor, however, the incidence of childhood poisonings did not drop.
In the early 1960s, Breault co-founded the Ontario Association for the Control of Accidental Poisoning (O.A.C.A.P.), which was incorporated in 1963. The organization (which dissolved in 1980) aimed to create child-resistant containers and promote their use for prescription medicine containers." The O.A.C.A.P. launched a competition, allowing Ontarians to submit designs of a cap that adults could open, but children up to the age of four could not. After three years, several models were considered but none were suitable.
Breault enlisted Peter Hedgewick, president of Reflex Corporation of Canada Ltd., based in Windsor. Peter and his team designed a polypropylene cap that fit onto a small container with six lugs. To remove the cap, hand pressure was required to twist the cap off of the lugs. The cap was tested by young children who were unable to open the cap after 10 minutes. The new innovation, called a Palm-N-Turn, was described in the 15 March 1966 issue of the Windsor Star as a “breakthrough Windsor first.” The device was patented by the Reflex firm.
Breault led a pilot project in Essex County from 1967 to 1972, incorporating caps on prescription bottles. At the end of the trial, accidental poisonings of children by prescription medicine were dramatically reduced, by 91 per cent. In 1974, Ontario became the first province in Canada to enforce the use of child-resistant caps on medical vials. Not only was the use of the Palm-N-Turn mandated across Canada, but the device was soon distributed in the United States and around the world.
During the 2016-17 academic year, Western University established the Dr. Henri Breault Award, "Awarded to the student who receives the highest evaluation at the completion of a Year IV elective or selective in Paediatrics." In 1974, the Henri Breault Pediatrics Centre was named in honour of the doctor at the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital (now Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare). Dr. Breault retired in 1980, but continued working part-time at the Windsor Rehabilitation Centre. At age 74, Breault suffered a heart attack and died in Exeter, Ontario. In 2000, the Dr. Henri Breault Community Excellence Award was created in Tecumseh to honour the doctor.
Awards and Honours
- Alan Ross Award, Canadian Pediatric Society (1978)
- Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (1997)