An Australian nurse who discovers a treatment for polio fights an uphill battle to win its acceptance. Biographical. [ Sister Kenny credits: Dir: Dudley Nichols/ Rosalind Russell, Alexander Knox, Dean Jagger/ 116 min/ Drama, Biography/ Creator as Hero, Anti-Regulation]
Thanks to the Salk vaccine, which pretty much put an end to polio as a danger to children, the Kenny Treatment for polio is now practically forgotten. But at one time this radical, if simple, procedure was the last hope for many. Sister Kenny developed it in 1911, while working as a nurse in rural Australia. In the course of her duties, she was called upon to help a young child who was in pain and partially paralyzed. Lacking a doctor’s knowledge, she innovated, applying heat packs and encouraging the child to move. The child recovered, as did six other children she likewise treated. It subsequently came to light that the curious condition she had remedied was early-stage polio.
However, the title-conscious medical establishment didn’t think that a treatment developed by an ordinary nurse was worth investigating. So it ignored her experience and made every effort to ban the use of her methods in Australia. Finally, she took her controversial treatment to the U.S., where it was accepted as at least significantly beneficial if not a complete cure, revolutionizing not only polio treatment but physiotherapy generally.
Sister Kenny is an often moving film and a good example of the creator-as-hero theme. It has the additional virtue of demonstrating the danger of allowing medical authorities to restrict innovations through their control of the certification process. Rosalind Russell gives a motivated performance. The film moves a little slowly at times, but overall it’s a satisfying watch. It would be an especially good film pick for nurses.
“Russell shines in title role, as Australian nurse who initiated treatment for polio. Engrossing drama is among the better Hollywood biopics.”
How to See It
Wikipedia: Elizabeth Kenny
Polio Place: Sister Elizabeth Kenny
New York Times: A Nurse Gains Fame in the Days of Polio
Minnesota Public Radio: Gentle Hands – Sister Kenny’s legacy
Book: Polio Wars: Sister Kenny and the Golden Age of American Medicine
Book: The Kenny Concept Of Infantile Paralysis And Its Treatment
Book: Sister Kenny: The Woman Who Challenged the Doctors
Book: Sister Elizabeth Kenny
Book: Healing Warrior: A Story About Sister Elizabeth Kenny