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Sep 27, 2018 Controversy Corner AMC Team 7 views


Written by Ron Loftus, General Manager



History repeats itself. Recently there have been a spate of new attacks on bio-identical hormones and those who support their use. The usual culprits have been sprouting half-truths and spurious utterings even to the point of alluding that they are really supporters of bio-identical hormones provided that they are not called bio identical but body identical and are mass manufactured. I thought therefore that rather than get angry**, I might draw attention to a great lady who faced opposition and even contempt by the experts and medicos of her time and who refused to be brought down.

Elizabeth Kenny, Nurse Kenny or Sister Kenny as she was dubbed by soldiers she nursed during World War 1, was an accomplished self-trained nurse who despite great opposition from the medical fraternity and acknowledged experts of her time, developed a controversial but ultimately effective new approach for treating victims of polio myelitis.

Born in 1880 in Warialda NSW, she went on to revolutionise the treatment of polio throughout the world. She was one of only two people ever to be awarded the right to enter and leave the USA without a visa. This was granted to her in recognition and appreciation of her tenacious fight against all odds and much criticism by a grateful President Harry S Truman in 1950.

Her treatment method was very different from the accepted practice of the time. Instead of wrapping limbs up in plaster casts and iron braces, she would apply hot compresses to the affected parts of the patient’s body and applied passive movement to the area affected resulting in improved recovery and fewer after effects than the accepted treatment prevailing at the time.

Kenny was also criticised for using the term spasm instead of “tightness” but this proved to be a more accurate term. In fact, doctors actually refused to allow her to use hot compresses during what was termed the acute stage of polio where the tightness was evident, thus many patients were fated to poorer outcomes.

Determined and outspoken, she experienced much opposition and ridicule but continued undeterred. Her methods and principles of rehabilitation of the muscles became the foundation of modern physical therapy and physiotherapy. Some doctors abandoned their scepticism after seeing the results and effects of Sister Kenny’s methods.

Things have not changed much today; the same loud experts and so-called medical professionals still do all in their power to discredit any method or treatment that does not conform to their way of thinking or according to their own particular set of rules. They are still critical of anyone who to them are unorthodox or individual even in the face of mounting evidence and proof to the contrary.


Quotes from a great lady – Elizabeth Kenny

“Some minds remain open long enough not only for the truth to enter but to pass on through by way of a steady exit without pausing anywhere along the route”

** “He who angers you, conquers you!”

“It’s better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life.”


Naomi Rogers, ‘Polio wars: Sister Kenny and the golden age of American medicine’, (2013).

Elizabeth Kenny and Martha Ostenso, ‘And they shall walk – the life of sister’, Elizabeth Kenny Published by Robert Hale Limited, London, (1951).

AMC Team

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