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L. Guttmann, INI, and the Paralympics

The opening ceremony of the Olympics gave a potted British history 
that disturbed me because it managed to leave science out- the token 
appearance of Tim Berners-Lee apart. The opening ceremony of the 
Paralympics, redressed the balance and put science at the forefront, 
appropriately so given its essential contribution to medicine. The 
Paralympics in London brings back many memories, not least because INI 
has a link to its founder, Ludwig Guttmann, a refugee German Jew who 
single-handedly revolutionised the treatment and rehabilitation of 
people with spinal injuries through his work as Director of the National 
Spinal Injury Centre at Stoke Mandeville, near Oxford, UK. For many 
years John Anderson, Rodney Douglas and I worked with David Whitteridge, 
whose portrait hangs in the INI entrance hall. As a neurophysiologist, 
Whitteridge worked with Ludwig Guttmann in the 1940s and 1950s, studying 
spinal reflexes. He told us many anecdotes about Guttmann, e.g. his 
injunction: 'The first duty of a paraplegic patient is to cheer up his 
visitors!' Whitteridge sponsored Guttmann's election to the Royal 
Society in 1976 and after Guttmann died in 1980, he wrote a moving 
account of his extraordinary life and achievements in a Biographical 
Memoir of the Royal Society 
(http://rsbm.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/29/226). Throughout my 
own childhood I had direct experience of the able-ness of the 'disabled' 
since my father taught at a blind school and later founded a school for 
so-called 'cerebral palsied' children, where they too had an annual 
sports day. Like the Stoke Mandeville Games, which later became the 
Paralympics, sports for blind and brain damaged children was a very 
central and fulfilling part of their lives. One legacy of Guttmann's 
humanity and vision - the London Paralympics - currently enthralls and 
inspires millions worldwide.

- K. Martin

1 comment:

Daniel Kiper said...

Having recently volunteered to help for the swiss ski championship for disabled people (have you already seen a blind person do a special slalom at full speed?), or for the national sport day for disabled people, I can only express respect for all those who initiated these and similar events. Many of them are scientists or biomedical engineers trying to alleviate disabilities!