Plutonium Injections – Patient HP-2

This biography is in honor of one of the patients that were injected with plutonium in Rochester, NY during WWII.

William in his hospital bed

William in his hospital bed

William Purcell was born 5 Aug. 1897 to Michael M. and Sarah A. Purcell. His father was an immigrant from Ireland that in 1900 was working for a railroad in Westfield, NY. By 1909 the family had moved to 601 Hawley Street in Rochester where the father, Michael, was working for a street car company as a “road master.”

William and his younger brother, Garrett, both had hemophilia. They also had 4 younger sisters, Mary, Catherine, Joan and Alice.

When William was admitted to Strong Memorial Hospital in 1945, his parents had both died and he had been living with his sister, Joan, on Earl Street. William had to the hospital 38 times for blood transfusions. He was well known at the hospital. He frequently attended hospital lectures and was interested in a new Red Cross blood program that might help other hemophiliacs. On 23 Oct. 1945 William was injected with .31 microcuries of plutonium. Which is 44 times the amount of radiation that a person gets in an average lifetime.

William's tombstone

William's tombstone

William only lived just over two more years. He died 4 April 1948 at aged 50 of brain damage and complications from his hemophilia. His death certificate says that he was a proprietor of a cigar store but he never had any occupation listed in the Rochester city directories. He was buried in the Purcell family plot in Section One South in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester.

In 1973 William’s sister Joan was asked by a government official if she would allow William to be exhumed for further tests. She refused the request.