How A Doctor's Prescription Led Golfer Eben Byers' Jaw To Fall Off

Discovered in 1898 by Pierre and Marie Curie, Live Science writes that Radium is a radioactive element that is known to be deadly. According to the Massachusetts Government, exposure to Radium can lead to cancer, anemia, and bone issues. Unfortunately, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission states that consumers from the 20th century were completely unaware of the dangers attributed to the substance. As a result, Radium was used in beauty products, toothpaste, medicine, and watches. Most notably, the Radium Girls, women who worked at a New Jersey factory painting Radium on clock dials, suffered severe health effects from their work.

Prior to this, The Atlantic explains that Radium was hailed as a miracle drug and an element that improved anything it was added to, including foods. It was even added to chicken feed in an effort to see if hens would lay eggs that were already cooked. Upon its discovery, The Historical Medical Library reports that Radium was used to treat various medical conditions. These included blindness, asthma, and ironically, even cancer. These "medicines" were simple and consisted of Radium-infused water. Per Insider, one of these marketed products was called Radithor. Sold in the 1920s, Radithor was advertised as an energy drink that could remedy impotence (via The Conversation). In 1927, Eben Byers, a golf champion from Pennsylvania, was prescribed Radithor by his doctor. Tragically, it was the beginning of the end of his life.

An arm injury led to his poisonous prescription

Born in April 1880, All That's Interesting states Byers hailed from a wealthy steel manufacturing family in Pittsburgh. As a young adult, he attended Yale College where the "Foxy Grandpa" as he was nicknamed, became known for his sportsmanship (via the Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity). In 1906, Chem Europe writes that Byers won the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship. Additionally, he became president of his family-owned steel business, the A.M. Byers Company. However, in 1927, Byer hurt his arm, which ultimately sealed his fate. It's believed that on a train ride home from a Yale-Harvard football game, Byers, then nearly 50, fell off his berth.

Suffering from arm pain, the golfer was prescribed Radithor by his doctor C.C. Moyar (via All That's Interesting). According to The Conversation, Byer became enamored by his new medication and continued to take it even when his arm pain disappeared. Per the Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity, Radithor invigorated the middle-aged man. He recommended his beloved medication to everyone, including friends and family. A 1932 article from Literary Digest reported that Byers was consuming up to three bottles of Radithor a day for years. Then in 1930, his teeth began to fall out. Byers stopped taking the Radithor and complained that he had jaw pain. Additionally, he stated that he lost weight along with the "toned-up feeling" that the medication had first given him. By 1932, just five years after he started taking the radium prescribed by his doctor, Byers endured a slow and gruesome death. 

Eben Byers' radioactive death

Soon after, Literary Digest writes that Byers was diagnosed with Radium poisoning. Needless to say, the damage to Byer's body had been done. When ingested, Radium deposits itself in bones, which disintegrates them. Thus, years of consuming Radium had led to bone fractures, holes in his skull, and the loss of his jaw (via Chem Europe). Around the same time, the Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity explains that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was investigating Radithor and its manufacturer Bailey Radium Laboratories, which was founded by William J. Bailey. When the agency heard of Byers' story, they asked him to testify against the company. By then, however, Byers was on his deathbed (per All That's Interesting).

Nevertheless, the Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity states that the FTC sent Robert Winn to interview Byers. Winn was shocked when he met the former sports star. He wrote that "his whole upper jaw, excepting two front teeth, and most of his lower jaw had been removed." Winn added, "A more gruesome experience in a more gorgeous setting would be hard to imagine." On March 31, 1932, 51-year-old Eben Byers died (via All That's Interesting).

Per Cult of Weird, Byer's remains were so radioactive that they had to be buried in a lead-lined coffin. Shortly after, the FTC was able to shut down Bailey Radium Laboratories. Even so, Byers doctor, C.C. Moyar denied that his patient's death was caused by Radium. Radithor's creator, Bailey, also rejected this notion and blamed the demise of his business on The Great Depression (per Literary Digest).