The Road to the Paralympics from Stoke Mandeville
Posted on 19th July 2019 at 22:43
The story of a Pioneering Neurosurgeon who took people with little hope on a journey that resulted in the Paralympics.
The Road to the Paralympics started in the 1940’s when a German-Jew escaped the repression of Jews that was taking place in Germany prior to the start of World War II. A respected Neurosurgeon Ludwig Guttmann was stripped of all his medical credentials before leaving his homeland and with the help of friends made a new home in England.
After a period of research in Oxford he found himself in Stoke Mandeville working with Paraplegics just before the ‘D’ Day landings. At that time anyone who suffered spinal injuries would have been lucky to have survived more than a few weeks. He realised that his patients were getting bed sores, but as they had no feeling in the lower part of their body felt no pain to alert anyone. The bed sores dried and cracked, and the resulting infection caused Sepsis resulting in premature death. By simply starting a regime where each patient was turned every couple of hours in oorder that bed sores did not occur, coupled with improved methods of preventing urinary infection there was now a greatly improved prognosis of a reasonable life span.
The next step was to convince his patients that they were useful people and raise their self-esteem. Initially he encouraged them to get out of bed into wheelchairs and participate in crafts such as woodworking. One day he saw some of his patients with up turned walking sticks pushing a puck around the floor from their wheelchairs, a form of hockey. This was the catalyst that started the thought of Sport being a useful tool in the rehabilitation of his patients. As most of his patients were from the military the opportunity to be competitive was ingrained from their former training.
Starting with sports like Archery and basketball sport became a staple part of the road to a new normality as Ludwig commented better than any Physiotherapy they could provide. As time progressed other hospitals in the UK were practicing some of Ludwig’s methods and in July 1948 a Sports Festival was held with participants from different locations coming to Stoke Mandeville. This was to become an annual event to be known as the Stoke Mandeville Games. Ironically the games coincided with the opening of the 1948 Olympics that were held in London.
With peace in Europe other hospitals were inviting Ludwig to visit and lecture in their country and it wasn’t long before the Games became “The Stoke Mandeville International Games”. First up were a Dutch team who participated in 1952. The following year there were teams from as far away as Canada. By now it was becoming games ‘for the disabled’ covering a wide spectrum of disabilities. It was at Stoke Mandeville that they pioneered the categorisation of disability to ensure competitors were competing with the same potential abilities.
In 1956 the Olympic Committee recognised the Stoke Mandeville International Games by awarding the Fernley Cup to Ludwig Guttmann and his team for “outstanding achievement in the service of the Olympic ideals”. Four years later the Stoke Mandeville International Games were held in Rome, the host city of the 1960 Olympics, 400 Paralysed Sportsmen and Women took part representing 23 countries.
The story of Stoke Mandeville and its pioneering Neurosurgeon Sir Ludwig Guttmann is now told in much more detail at the newly opened Paralympic Heritage Centre. Caltours of Birmingham Ltd will be taking a coach there in September and £5 of each fare will be donated to the Paralympic Heritage Trust.
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