Monday, 27 August 2012

Dr. Ludwig Guttman - 1899 1980

Sir Ludwig
'Hands up' all those who have heard of Dr. Ludwig Guttman. No! but you have all heard of the Paralympic Games.
It was Dr. Guttman, a German neurologist who founded the games whilst working at the famous National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire.
Previously he worked at the Jewish Hospital in Breslau, Germany where he later became their director. However, as a Jew, he left when life became impossible for him and his family, and emigrated here to Oxford. The Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) negotiated with the Home Office on their behalf and donated a sum of £400 (around £20,000) in today's money) to help the family establish themselves. The family stayed with Lord Lyndsay, CARA Councillor and Master of Balliol College, Oxford whilst Dr. Guttmann did research at the famous Radcliffe Infirmary in the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery.
In 1943, he was asked by the British government to found the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he was appointed Director. His strong belief was that sport is an excellent method of therapy, using it to help build physical strength and also self-respect.
The medical issues he could deal with, but his biggest concern was how to overcome the widely held belief both within the medical profession and amongst the general public that patients once paralysed faced a pointless future, and that it was impossible to integrate them back into society. 
He achieved this by changing the way they were treated much to the contempt of his fellow surgeons, doctors, and nurses.  He had the patients moved regularly to avoid pressure sores, and prevent urinary tract infections developing. He exercised very firm control over the patients cajoling them into doing physical and skill based activities. Sports such as Archery improved their mental wellbeing, and learning new skills, such as woodwork, clock and watch repair and how to type. These skills would ensure that they would be employable when returning back into the community.
He introduced an annual games event. Year after year the number of patients taking part in the Stoke Mandeville Games increased as the number of sports on offer grew. Word spread amongst other spinal hospitals around Britain and to other countries until in 1953 a team arrived from Canada for the games. By 1954 there were Australians, Finns, Egyptians and Israelis, and so today's Paralympics were born. 
The Paralympic symbol
The Paralympic symbol for the London games
Dr. Guttmann received worldwide honours along with an OBE and CBE from the UK. In 1966 he received a Knighthood from the Queen.
In June this year a statue of Sir Ludwig was unveiled at Stoke Mandeville as part of the run up to the London 2012 games.
So let us all remember Dr. Ludwig Guttmann's extraordinary pioneering work as we enjoy watching the exceptional sporting skills of the brave men and women that will be on show at the London Paralympics commencing on 29th August 2012.
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Many of you will be aware that here in the UK our letterboxes and telephone boxes are traditionally red.
However, following the London Olympics a funny thing has been happening to some of the boxes.
This is a tribute gold letterbox, representing the fact that we have a gold Olympian living in our midst. Our man with the golden medal is rower Peter Reed, who has two gold medals, one from London and one from Beijing - congratulations to Peter.
all images and some information from wikipedia, British Paralympic Association, & BBC documentary

18 comments:

  1. ΤHE offer of Dr. Ludwig Guttman in global medicine and the sport is huge.He gave life and hope to those people who are struggling every day. Remarkable man!
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - that is why I wanted to write about him. His name is unfamiliar to many, yet his contribution to the wellbeing of disabled people throughout the world is enormous.

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  2. Dr. Guttman is a most distinguished and admirable person; his integrity shows through at each step. His practices in some ways parallel the message of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story The Yellow Wallpaper, in which the author reveals that activity, not enforced idleness was the best treatment for nervous disorders. How sad that people used to hide or shunt aside those with impaired health.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. We drove through Stoke Mandeville a few weeks ago, and I saw a little notice on the roadside grass verges saying 'The Home of the Paralympics'. I pointed it out to H and asked him what it mean't, but he didn't know either. I then set out to find the answer. Subsequently the TV did an excellent documentary about Dr. Guttman too which portrayed what a remarkably intelligent and caring human being he was.

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  3. Thanks for the inspiring posting! Dr. Guttman bettered the lives of people born long after his passing.

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    1. Thanks Mark - I really felt it was remiss of me that I didn't know anything about him. In July his son and daughter attended a reception at The House of Lords where his daughter spoke of her family's eternal gratitude to CARA without whom they would not have avoided their almost certain fate in concentration camps.

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  4. Good Morning Rosemary

    Thank you for this enlightening post on Dr. Guttman. I will be observing the Olympics with a more understanding. He was a true hero. How great he lived among us and sunk his nail of gold in the world.

    A beautiful tribute to the gold medal athletes is the mailbox. Joyful.

    Helen xx

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    1. Hello Helen - what a lovely expression, that he sunk his nail of gold in the world. I shall remember that. It is wonderful that one man could achieve so much and leave such a lasting legacy to the world.
      I liked the idea of the golden letterboxes, a simple thing to do, but as you mention, a joyful tribute.

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  5. What an amazing man and what a legacy to leave for so many. We have been meaning to watch the programme on TV all week so I definitely do so tonight after reading your post.
    Sarah x

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    1. He was a very clever and inspirational man, and the world was extremely fortunate that CARA stepped in to save him and his family from a terrible fate.
      Enjoy the programme Sarah.

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  6. Hi Rosemary,

    After your post I will not forget who dr Ludwig Guttman is!

    Have a lovely new week.

    Madelief x

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    1. Hello Madelief - Through Dr. Guttman's initial insistence and encouragement many disabled people are now achieving and succeeding in so many different spheres of life, which is as it should be.

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  7. What a great man he was. It's great the paralimpics are there. It's a shame such a few people are watching these programm's on TV. The golden letterbox is a great idea.
    Have a great evening Rosemary.

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    1. I like the golden letterbox idea too Marijke.
      I think perhaps the Paralympics are increasingly receiving more coverage as people realise what adversity so many of the athletes have overcome in order to be successful at the games.

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  8. I had heard about the red mailboxes being painted gold in England when a golden medal was won and of course about the paralympics almost starting but hadn't heard about Dr Guttman. What a pioneer he was. He has changed and improved life for so many people by his work. Thank you for telling us about him Rosemary.
    Bye,
    Marian

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    1. Dear Marian - I did not know about him myself until a few weeks ago. It is a wonderful outcome that from his initial pioneering ideas a whole movement has grown up that encourages disabled men and women to compete at such high levels of skill.

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  9. Fascinating insight into the origins of the Paralympics Rosemary, thank heavens for people like Dr Guttman championing the incredible people we are witnessing this week.

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    1. I think that the Paralympics have really been well and truly put on the map by London this week.

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