Elizabeth Kenny, the daughter of Michael and Mary Kenny, was born September 20, 1886 in New South Wales, Australia. She received her nursing training at a private hospital and served as a nurse in the Australian bush country from 1911 to 1914. It was during this period that she encountered her first case of infantile paralysis (1909) and developed her treatment for the disease. During World War I Kenny served as an Australian Army nurse and was promoted to the rank of “sister,” the Nurse Corps equivalent to a first lieutenant.*
After the war Kenny returned to civilian nursing. Her treatment and concept of infantile paralysis gained the recognition of the medical profession and the support of the Australian government. Her clinic at Townsville was given government status and Kenny clinics were established throughout Australia.**
In 1911, when she encountered her first case of polio, Sister Kenny was unaware of conventional polio treatment — immobilizing the affected muscles with splints. Instead, she used common sense and her understanding of anatomy to treat the symptoms of the disease. Sister Kenny applied moist hotpacks to help loosen muscles, relieve pain, and enable limbs to be moved, stretched, and strengthened. The theory of her treatment was muscle “re-education” — the retraining of muscles so that they could function again. The medical profession widely opposed her unorthodox methods and brought about a Royal Commission to stop her practicing.***
Kenny came to the U.S. in the spring of 1940 but was disappointed by the cool reception her treatment technique received on the West and East coasts. In June 1940 she demonstrated her treatment at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Minneapolis General Hospital. The medical personnel at these institutions accepted Kenny’s treatment method as an entirely new concept of infantile paralysis and the first American treatment center was opened at Minneapolis General Hospital.
In December 1942, the City of Minneapolis established the Elizabeth Kenny Institute and the following year the Sister Elizabeth Kenny Foundation was formed to financially support the Institute’s work and to forward the teaching of the Kenny method throughout the U.S. and abroad. Sister Kenny’s pioneering principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physical therapy. Today, Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Services is one of the premier rehabilitation centers in the country, known for its progressive and innovative vision. Elizabeth Kenny died November 30, 1952 at her home in Toowoomba, Australia. **,***
The story of a visionary being misunderstood and opposed by those who should be allied is, unfortunately, not news in human history. My heart sinks as I read about this woman who used up her life in service to those who had lost use of limbs due to polio or other causes. Why are those who serve so often viewed as the enemy by their authorities instead of allies or innovators? Granted, they are responsible for life and death decisions, and this is surely a heavy weight to bear. Lord, will You forgive the judgments of the Royal Commission against Sister Kenny, and give them wisdom in their regulatory decisions?
Will You release her, and all physical therapists’ who followed in her footsteps from this kind of opposition? Will You bless Sister Kenny’s memory in St. Paul and Toowooba? Will You favor her generations, and all professionals who continue to advance the work she started? Will You grant them new ideas and insights to the restoration of the human body?
Lord, to generalize, perhaps the creative forces of medicine are greatly hampered from healing through fear-based laws, and the seeking of permission to heal. What do You say about this in Scripture?
“For no matter how many promises G-d has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of G-d.” 2 Corinthians 1:20 ****
Contextually to the readers of these verses the meaning would be more like “altogether true and entirely free of ambiguity. Will You bless such boards and authorities with insight and revelation to release healing into the world that is “altogether true and entirely free of ambiguity”? Will You shield them from tyranny of the state or the business cycle?
Will You release the medical authorities of her home nation for the initial rejection of her ideas? Will You forgive her any counter-judgments made in the midst of this rejection pain? Will You bless the nation of Australia because of her, and continue her legacy there? Give us many more in Minnesota, Lord, who heal in spite of political or legal disfavor, but heal because they follow the Author of Healing! Amen.
* P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!