Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Sir Ludwig Guttmann

Ludwig Guttmann, the eldest child of the family, was born in Tost, within Upper Silesia, Germany (now Toszek, Poland) on 3 July 1899.
'Poppa' statue at Stoke Mandeville.

Guttmann first encountered a patient with a spinal cord injury in 1917, while he was volunteering at the Accident Hospital in Konigshutte. The patient was a coal miner who later died of sepsis. Guttmann started his medical studies in April 1918 at the University of Breslau. He transferred to the University of Freiburg in 1919 and received his Doctorate of Medicine in 1924.
By 1933, Guttmann was considered the top neurosurgeon in Germany. With the arrival of the Nazis in power, Jews were banned from practising medicine professionally and he was allowed to work only at the Jewish Hospital in Breslau, where he became director of the hospital. Following the violent attacks on Jewish people and properties during Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938, Guttmann ordered his staff to admit anyone without question. The following day he justified his decision on a case-by-case basis with the Gestapo. Out of 64 admissions, 60 patients were saved from arrest and deportation to concentration camps.
In early 1939, Guttmann and his family left Germany because of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. An opportunity for escape arose when the Nazis provided him with a visa and ordered him to travel to Portugal to treat a friend of the Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.
In September 1943 the British government asked Dr Guttmann to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. When the centre opened on 1 February 1944, Guttmann was appointed its director (a position he held until 1946). As director of the UK's first specialist unit for treating spinal injuries, he believed that sport was a major method of therapy for injured military personnel helping them build up physical strength and self-respect.
Guttmann became a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom in 1945. He organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled persons on 28 July 1948, the same day as the start of the London 1948 Summer Olympics. Dr Guttmann used the term paraplegic games for national games held in order to encourage his patients to take part. This came to be known as the "Paralympics," which only later became the "Parallel Games" and included other disabilities.
His vision of an international games the equivalent of the Olympic Games themselves was realized in 1960 when the International Stoke Mandeville Games were held alongside the official 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Known at the time as the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games, and organised under the aegis of the World Federation of Ex-servicemen (an International Working Group on Sport for the Disabled), they are now recognized as the first Paralympic Games.
As "Neurological Surgeon in charge of the Spinal Injuries Centre at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Stoke Mandeville", he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1950 King's Birthday Honours. On 28 June 1957, he was made an Associate Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John.
He was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1966, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Guttmann gave many injured soldiers and disabled people a purpose in life, a selfless man who enhanced people’s lives when many had written them off, simply masking their pain with drugs rather than make the effort to rehabilitate.Introducing physiotherapy as a medical treatment and making others above realise how imperative that was. 
All of this and the ethos of inclusion and giving people that purpose in life is probably why I can get into a football stadium today, probably part of the reason we have equality law in the workplace, probably why you see ‘Positive About Disability’ at the bottom of most pieces of paper in any business, and he is definitely the reason we see the Paralympics every four years.
Ludwig Guttmann died on the 18th of March, 1980 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, so much more than the neurologist he set out to be in his life. Even with his honours I still believe he’s an unsung hero, a global one at that.
On the 7th March 2014, BBC2 showed us the life of this great man, excellently played by Eddie Marsan in the entertaining drama 'The Best Of Men' and I implore you to go and look it up.
Far from delusions of grandeur of which he was accused, Guttmann didn't care for his own importance or well being, he cared for the importance and well being of others.
Thank you, Poppa.

(All dates confirmed, courtesy of Wiki)

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