Throwback Thursday: A peek inside the polio ward at Memorial Hospital - 1941, Casper Tribune-Herald
By Kristy Bleizeffer Jun 25, 2020
While we wait for a viable coronavirus vaccine, think back to another pandemic that ravaged the United States and the world: Polio.
Since 1954, when the polio vaccine was first trialed and then widely administered, polio has been almost eradicated in Western countries and greatly reduced in the developing world. But for decades prior, the highly infectious disease paralyzed and killed thousands, many of them children, in the United States.
Natrona County was not immune. In 1941, we had an active branch of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, chaired by William J. Stone, and a polio ward at Memorial Hospital.
On May 9 of that year, the Casper Tribune-Herald took a peek inside to preview the hospital's upcoming open house for National Hospital Day.
The paper wrote about two pieces of equipment for polio patients, designed by local orthopedic specialist Dr. Gordon Whiston – including the "spastic chair," highlighted in these photos.
The entire article is transcribed below, along with the story of "husky young Jack Albee," a Midwest high school athlete who was confined to bed for months due to a polio infection. You can also read about Memorial Hospitals iron lung, a man-sized tube used to help paralyzed breathe.
sPECIAL EQUIPMENT BUILT HERE FOR CRIPPLED PATIENTS
Husky young Jack Albee, Midwest high school athlete, lay for months on a bed at Memorial Hospital. When they brought him there, it was doubtful if he would ever walk again. Stricken by infantile paralysis, his legs were as useless as chunks of wood.
Today, Jack Albee is walking again. Slowly, painstakingly and with the help of the "walker" especially made for the state orthopedic ward at the Casper hospital, but he is on the way to complete recovery. He is on his feet again. And he is one of the most pleased young men in this whole wide world.
His is not the only recovery that is taking place in this popular ward, which will be visited by the public next Sunday afternoon. In recognition of National Hospital Day, there will be an open house reception and a baby reunion - for all infants born at the institution since Jan. 1, 1939 - between the hours of 2 and 4 o'clock. Visitors will be welcome to inspect the hospital.
Through patient, skilled doctoring and nursing, under the supervision of Dr. Gordon Whiston, orthopedic specialist in charge of the ward, and Martha Partridge, hospital superintendent, progress is reported for every patient in the department.
The creation of special equipment right here at home, to meet certain needs in the rehabilitation of infantile paralysis and other orthopedic patients, is one of the most important developments of all. The walker in which Albee is learning to use his legs again was designed by the national defense welding class at the high school in accordance with designs suggested by Dr. Whiston. The cost was defrayed from the local "polio" fund maintained by the National Infantile Paralysis Foundation.
Other appliances have been fashioned to fulfill specified requirements. One of the most remarkable of all is the tilting, adjustable chair for the curing of spastic patients, those unable to sit upright and to control the movements of their head. The improvement resulting from the practice sessions in this chair is truly gratifying. It was constructed by the firemen at station No. 2 (on David Street), from original ideas proposed by Dr. Whiston. It was his "brain child." Funds necessary for its construction were donated by the local Moose Lodge.
Other appliances in the exercise room include mirrors and chairs donated by Mrs. Elizabeth McRorey and Mrs. B. W. Maxon.
In conjunction is a regular class room where school is conducted by Mrs. E. Robert Dumbleton, a teacher in the Casper school system on special assignment for this purpose. Children's tables and chairs for use in the classroom were donated by the Casper Business and Professional Women's club, which has been active in various ways in sponsoring entertainment and assistance to the patients in this ward.
Much more might be written of the important work being done in the orthopedic ward, and of the interesting appliances and events there. But visitors on Sunday, as they join in observance of National Hospital Day 1941, will have an opportunity to see for themselves.
Throwback Thursday looks back on Wyoming Medical Center’s long, rich history in Natrona County. Special thanks to the Casper College Western History Center, which archives our vast collection of newspaper articles, photographs and other memorabilia; and to "Wyoming Medical Center: A Centennial History," by Rebecca A. Hunt, Ph.D.