The Fantastic Mr Dahl

Bedtime story

Roald Dahl had anything but a dull and boring life. I would say he followed his dreams. He told stories that have been loved by children all over the world, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. He wrote the screenplay for a James Bond movie as well as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and other movies. During World War II he was a fighter pilot and sent intelligence to the spy agency MI6.

Roald Dahl died in 1990 from MDS when he was 74. MDS is short for myelodysplastic syndromes. These are diseases that stop the blood from working properly. Some of the blood’s jobs are to carry oxygen around the body and fight germs. So people with MDS might get tired or sick easily.

I’d like to think Mr Dahl would have made a good scientist. His mother wanted to pay for him to get a good university education but he said he would rather go exploring. And he did. He also had a hugely creative imagination, which is always good for investigating things. In fact after his baby son Theo was hit by a car and nearly died, he did help invent a medical contraption that was used to save children with brain injuries. This was called the Wade-Dahl-Till valve after Dahl and the other inventors.

Roald Dahl knew that being vaccinated is very important because his daughter Olivia died from Measles when she was seven. Thirty years ago he wrote a letter in a newspaper pleading with parents to get their children vaccinated. He hoped that Olivia’s death would at least help save some other children’s lives.

The Roald Dahl Foundation was set up in Dahl’s memory to help seriously sick children. It’s now called The Marvellous Children’s Charity. I think the Marvellous Mr Dahl would have approved.


More about Roald Dahl

Official website:



More about MDS

Today, the 14th of July, is the third National MDS Day in Australia. A year ago I wrote about Carl Sagan and MDS. Sagan was a very well-known scientist who presented the original Cosmos series. He took quite an interest in his disease, and we can hear him speak about his fight with his killer in the media (there’s a link to an interview at the end of this post).

But there’s not much detail on the internet about Roald Dahl’s illness. One biography just says he went into hospital with an unknown infection in November 1990 and died 11 days later. (Interestingly for me this was the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK, and I was working there at the time.) A lot of MDS patients do have infections that are serious enough to need a hospital stay.

Organisers of a charity event for MDS in the UK this year took the trouble to explain what MDS is in their advertisements. MDS has a public image problem – almost no public image that is.

  • “Unfortunately (!) the only ‘celebrities’ that have had MDS are all dead (Carl Sagan, Roald Dahl, Susan Sonntag) – if we had a few living ones then maybe this would be a disease with more public profile and hence money for research.”


Carl Sagan talking about his illness:

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS for short) can be mild, severe, or anything in between. About a third of people with MDS will get leukaemia (acute myeloid leukaemia or AML).

The Leukaemia Foundation of Australia has information for patients and carers, and supports research in Australia.

There’s also the MDS Beacon, the MDS Foundation, and information is available through several other leukaemia and health-related organisations on the net.

There’s a modified version of this post at