Great Women in Medicine Elizabeth Kenny

elizabeth_kenny_Great Women_in _medicine

Great Women in Medicine, Sister Elizabeth Kenny

by Jeffrey Dach MD

During the polio epidemic of the 1940’s, mainstream treatment of flaccid paralysis by orthopedic surgeons involved tendon transplant, after which the limb was immobilized and placed in a cast for many months.  This was described in the 1913 Journal of Orthopedic surgery here.

Sister Kenny – A Radical Depayoung_elizabeth_kennyrture from Mainstream Practice

Sister Kenny, an Australian nurse (not a nun) recognized the underlying disorder as muscle spasm and devised a successful treatment of flaccid paralysis with wool strip heat soaks, massage, and muscle exercises, the exact opposite of conventional orthopedic treatment of the time..  Compared to the dismal results obtained by immobilization,  Kenney’s active treatment was enormously successful and she was brought to the US in Minnesota where she opened clinics which offered the Sister Kenny treatment for polio victims.

Her life and career was the subject of a Hollywood Movie, starring Rosalind Russell, and a play was also written about her life and  career.

Watch this 10 minute You Tube documentary about her life:(2)

Watch this video by the playwright talking about the play of Elizabeth Kenney:

Articles with Related Interest:

The Failure of Global Polio Eradication

Spraying DDT to Eradicate Polio

Suzanne Humphreys Dissolving Illusions Book Review

Related Books:

Polio Wars: Sister Kenny and the Golden Age of American Medicine 1st Edition by Naomi Rogers (Author)

The Kenny Concept Of Infantile Paralysis And Its Treatment
by John F Pohl (Author), Sister Elizabeth Kenny (Contributor), Frank R Ober (Contributor)

Sister Elizabeth Kenny Hardcover – 1958
by Henry Thomas (Author), Polly Bolian (Illustrator)

Jeffrey Dach MD
7450 Griffin Road Suite 180/190
Davie, Florida 33314

Links and References

Great Women in Medicine, Sister  Elizabeth Kenny
Br Med J. 1943 May 15; 1(4297): 615–616.
Kenny Treatment of Poliomyelitis

2) Elizabeth Kenny  Kenny Method Polio Treatment National History Day 2010 Dena Royal Dena Royal Uploaded on May 25, 2010
NHD Documentary 5th place Washington State Junior Individual Documentary (middle schooler.) Represents over 250 hours of work. Please feel free to link, but give credit to student M. Maronde, Oak Harbor HomeConnection.

3) Play Wright

Sister Kenny’s Children – From the Playwright and the Director
HistoryTheatreMN HistoryTheatreMN
Uploaded on Jan 26, 2010Playwright Doris Baizley and director Ron Peluso talk about the new play “Sister Kenny’s Children” about Sister Elizabeth Kenny (played by Claudia Wilkens) who revolutionized the treatment of polio and laid the foundation for modern physical therapy. “Sister Kenny’s Children” plays January 23-February 14, 2010 at History Theatre,  or

4) Movie with Rosalind Russell

playing Outback nurse Elizabeth Kenny, ca. 1911, Rosalind Russell has received a diagnosis of infantile paralysis for Dorrie (Doreen McCann) and, with aid from her parents (Fay Helm, Charles Kemper), invents her own radical treatment, in Sister Kenny, 1946.Movie clip on sister kenny inventing heaeat treatment to relieve muscl spams of child with polio.

5) Sister Kenny: Confronting the Conventional in Polio Treatment
By Miki Fairley  Content provided by The O&P EDGE

6)  Sister Kenney – The Movie, with clips

7) Image J Nurs Sch. 1997 Spring;29(1):83-7.
Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse, and treatment of poliomyelitis victims.  Oppewal SR.   To analyze the strategies that Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse, used when trying to obtain medical endorsement for an innovation that was not based on knowledge of pathology, but was empirically demonstrated.
SIGNIFICANCE:When faced with the need to “Do the best you can with the symptoms presenting themselves,” Kenny used keen observation to develop a new treatment for poliomyelitis in the early 1900s. Her innovation was to use hot packs to relieve muscle spasms in people with early symptoms of poliomyelitis when orthodox medical treatment included use of splints or casts to immobilize affected limbs.
METHOD: Historical case analysis.FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS:
Sister Kenny made bold assertions, obtained scientific validation, learned from experience, used publicity, and opposed resistance. Although some strategies were unsuccessful (and Kenny faced many obstacles) medical practice changed in a relatively short time. Immobilization of limbs was largely discontinued in the acute stage of the disease. Kenny persisted in caring for children who otherwise might have sustained deformities.

8) Nurs Hist Rev. 2010;18:189-203.
Nurse Irene Shea studies the “Kenny method” of treatment of infantile paralysis, 1942-1943.  Golden J, Rogers N.In the 1940s nurses in the United States set out to learn the Kenny method of treating polio patients, which relied on hot packs and muscle strengthening exercises instead of the standard system of prolonged immobilization. Named for Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse who based herself in Minnesota during the 1940s and early 1950s, and viewed with suspicion by many physicians, nurses, and physical therapists, the treatment nonetheless proved effective. It changed the practice of polio nursing and the experiences of patients in the years before vaccine prevention largely eliminated paralytic polio.

9)   Gentle hands – Elizabeth Kenny’s early career
By Dan Olson  Minnesota Public Radio  August 22, 200210

10)  The origins of Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute was formed in June 2013 through the merger of Courage Center and Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, part of Allina Health. Both organizations bring a strong history of service to people with disabilities to the new Institute.

About Sister KennyElizabeth Kenny was born in Australia in 1880. She was trained as an army nurse and treated the sick for 31 years in the bushlands of Australia. She was granted the honorific the title “Sister” — used in British countries for “nurse.”

11)  Published on Feb 15, 2013. Susan Humphries speaks on Polio at the Association of Natural Health Conference.

Header image courtesy of Big Think

Last updated on by Jeffrey Dach MD

Great Women in Medicine Elizabeth Kenny
Article Name
Great Women in Medicine Elizabeth Kenny
Elizabeth Kenny's Unconventional Polio Treatment Worked Better than Conventional Treatments
jeffrey dach md
publisher logo

One thought on “Great Women in Medicine Elizabeth Kenny

  1. Pingback: The Failure of Global Polio Eradication - Jeffrey Dach MD

Leave a Reply