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, 29 (1), 83-7

Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian Nurse, and Treatment of Poliomyelitis Victims

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Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian Nurse, and Treatment of Poliomyelitis Victims

S R Oppewal. Image J Nurs Sch.

Abstract

Purpose: 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.

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