Nurse Irene Shea Studies the "Kenny Method" of Treatment of Infantile Paralysis, 1942-1943 by ProQuest

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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. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

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									NOTES AND DOCUMENTS


Nurse Irene Shea Studies the
“Kenny Method” of Treatment
of Infantile Paralysis, 1942–1943

Janet Golden
Rutgers University
Naomi Rogers
Yale University History of Medicine




     Abstract. 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 preven-
     tion largely eliminated paralytic polio.


The documents discussed here show how one nurse, Irene Shea, sought to
learn the Kenny method and how she viewed both Kenny and her treatment
protocol. The documents provide a window into an important aspect of nurs-
ing history, elucidating the ways nurses in the past sought to learn new clini-
cal techniques and how their efforts to do so required an understanding of
the local medical and political environment. They also suggest how issues of
hospital authority, disease philanthropy, health care financing, and relations
between nurses and physicians shaped the scope of nursing practice and thus
nurses’ options for advanced continuing education.

Nursing History Review 18 (2010): 189–203. A Publication of the American Association for the History
of Nursing. Copyright © 2010 Springer Publishing Company.
DOI: 10.1891/1062–8061.18.189
190    Janet Golden

      In June 1942, Irene F. Shea, R.N., superintendent of nurses at Baltimore’s
Sydenham Hospital, the city’s infectious disease hospital, wrote to Dr. Hun-
tington Williams, head of the city’s health department (see Document 1).2
She sought funding for one or two staff nurses to attend a one-week course in
the Kenny method for the treatment of infantile paralysis (polio).1 Shea had
recently returned from the annual meeting of the American Medical Associa-
tion (AMA) in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which she attended with support
from both the health department and the Maryland chapter of the National
Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP), popularly known as the March of
Dimes. While there she had the opportunity to see a special exhibit organized
by the NFIP and to attend lectu
								
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