"Sister" Elizabeth Kenny was born sometime in the 1880s
(different sources give different dates) in New South Wales
. She was trained as a practical nurse
, and gained the title "Sister
" as a rank in the Australian medical
corps during World War I
. She served on hospital
ships and was herself wounded by shrapnel
in one leg. She later invented the Sylvia Stretcher
, which was a new method for transporting patients in shock
, and which earned her royalties for a long time.
During her nursing work, she became interested in polio, or as it was known then, infantile paralysis. Working with Australian aborigines, she found that their method of putting hot cloths on the spasming limbs of victims seemed to help. After much experimenting during her rounds as a bush nurse, she started a polio clinic in Queensland, Australia, with seventeen patients, even though her method of applying heat with damp cloths to patients' limbs was exactly opposite of that which doctors generally recommended (immobilizing the patient so that the spasms would not cause the working muscles to pull the paralyzed ones into unnatural positions). She also believed in physical therapy to keep all the muscles functioning properly.
The medical establishment of the developed countries generally considered her a quack for some of the unscientific theory behind her methods, but nonetheless Kenny-trained therapists spread and those using her processes had remarkable success. (Science fiction author Robert Anton Wilson credits his recovery from childhood polio with only a very slight limp to the Sister Kenny method; his references to her were the reason I researched who she was.) Her reception in the United States was better than anywhere else; she became a guest faculty member at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and the Kenny Institute was founded in 1942. american organizations such as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis refused to endorse her or the Institute, even though they did fund training for some Kenny therapists.
Sister Kenny died of a stroke in 1952, three years before the announcement of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine. The methods she used resemble many things that are common medical practice now for working with paralysis. A movie, "Sister Kenny," with Rosalind Russell playing Elizabeth Kenny was made in 1946.