Colorado's Healthcare Heritage — Short Stories

Here are a few quick examples of the hundreds of stories about Colorado's healthcare pioneers that are included in Colorado's Healthcare Heritage in Context: A 19th and 20th Century Chronology. More examples may be added from time to time.

1893 — The Death of a Ministering Angel

On January 16, 1893, Sister Joseph Marie O'Connor, a 31-year-old nurse who was a native of Ireland, died in Denver following an accidental fall down the St. Joseph's Hospital elevator shaft when she was exhausted after a long shift. Her death was the occasion for what must be one of the most beautiful and evocative tributes to a nurse ever composed by a group of physicians.

Drs. C.P. Harrigan, Lewis E. Lemen, and H.H. Martin — on behalf of the hospital staff physicians — wrote that they had "lost a faithful nurse of the purest intelligence, the embodiment of all those delicate graces of a ministering angel. The demise of one so young, so frank, so generous, so kind in acts and speech, so unselfish, so careful of others, blending so completely in one character the most finished type of womanly virtue, an ideal Sister of Charity, is an irreparable loss to suffering humanity and her religious community. Gentle nurse, humble Sister of Charity, friend, we bid thee peaceful rest."

1896 — Typhoid Fever at Arapahoe County Hospital

A typhoid fever epidemic swept through Denver's Arapahoe County Hospital during February and March, 1896. There were 21 cases in 21 days — two interns, eleven nurses, three orderlies, three women who worked in the laundry, and two members of the superintendent's family came down with typhoid fever.

Josephine Kloth, RN — the 31-year-old superintendent of the Colorado Training School for Nurses at Arapahoe County Hospital since 1894 — died on March 16, 1896. She had come to Denver from Cincinnati City Hospital, where she had been assistant superintendent of nurses. In 1891, Miss Kloth had graduated from the Cincinnati Training School for Nurses (established in 1889), and she had done postgraduate studies at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dr. Matthew Henry Gardiner — a 26-year-old resident physician who had received his MD in 1895 from the University of Colorado — died on March 18, 1896. Herbert W. McLauthlin, MD, spoke about the epidemic to the 1896 annual meeting of the Colorado State Medical Society:

It occurred in February and March — months in which typhoid is infrequent, and at a time when there had been no known case of the disease in the hospital for some months, and when throughout the city there were only a few isolated cases, while nothing like an epidemic had occurred for several years. It was confined almost entirely to the officers and employees of the hospital, nineteen out of about forty being attacked. . . . The 150 patients escaped entirely with the exception to two. Those attacked neither ate, slept, nor worked in the same buildings. . . .
Dr. McLauthlin's description of what happened to Dr. Matthew Gardiner, the recent CU medical school graduate, suggests why typhoid fever was so feared:
Case No. 1 — Dr. G., chief resident physician, age 26, was the second person to give up, after having felt ill for one week. There was intense headache with general aching. The temperature quickly became high, ranging from 104 degrees to 106 degrees, without remissions, during the first week. During the second week it was somewhat lower, with morning remissions. In the middle of this week there were hemorrhages from the bowels, the first one occurring on the ninth day after going to bed.

By the middle of the third week the temperature had fallen to 102 degrees at night, while his general condition was extremely good. At this time, after exposure to a cold wind from an open window, he developed a left-sided pleurisy. There was much pain, abundant friction sounds, while the temperature rose to 105 degrees.

Within three days the typhoid symptoms became more aggravated than at any time previous. Hemorrhages recurred, while at the same time he developed diarrhoea, tympany, subsultus, and delirium. The pulse rose rapidly, ranging from 150 to 175 for two days before his death, which occurred March 18, in the middle of the fourth week, and eight days after the complication and aggravation of the symptoms arose. Dr. [Herbert] Whitney was in consultation in the case. (The Colorado State Medical Society Proceedings, 1896, pp. 156-157)
Dr. McLauthlin's team thoroughly investigated the hospital's water, refrigeration, and food supplies, and concluded that the epidemic had been caused by contaminated food purchased at a local grocery store and eaten at the hospital by staff and employees, but not by patients.

Typhoid fever again hit Denver hard in late summer 1896, apparently due to polluted water. Denver had 170 cases and 14 fatalities in August. Diphtheria became a problem again beginning in October; the health department thought that it had been brought into Denver by visitors to the annual Festival of Mountain and Plain.

Following the death of Josephine Kloth, RN, during the typhoid epidemic, Hattie Shepard, RN, the founding superintendent (1887-1888) of the Training School, agreed to be superintendent until a permanent replacement could be hired. Emma Benz, RN, was the superintendent who restored a relatively calm atmosphere to the Training School following the typhoid epidemic.

1908 — The Professor from Italy and the Denver Post Newsboy

In 1908, while Cesare Ghillini, MD, 45, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Bologna, was in Denver visiting his classmate Aldo Massarenti, MD, he saw a boy on 16th Street who had severely deformed feet. Dr. Ghillini thought that he could help, so he spoke with Elisa Palladino, daughter of Denver contractor Frank Damascio. With the help of the Denver Post, the boy was identified as a 10-year-old Post newsboy, Nathan Seigel.

The Denver Post (May 24, 1908): "Upon interviewing the parents, great difficulty was encountered in gaining their consent to the operation. Coming from a land where Russian Jews are oppressed, not speaking a word of English, and being in a strange land and ignorant of its customs, they were fearful that the child's feet would be cut off."

An interpreter helped get the family's consent, and on May 26, 1908, Dr. Ghillini operated on the boy's feet at Arapahoe County Hospital in Denver, with 70 local physicians and surgeons observing.

After the surgery Dr. Ghillini, who spoke no English, thanked Dr. C.B. Lyman, who had made arrangements at County Hospital, and Dr. Philip Hillkowitz, his interpreter.

Dr. Lyman remarked that Professor Ghillini was as renowned as Dr. Adolf Lorenz, the groundbreaking orthopaedic surgeon from Vienna, and that being able to watch him operate and hear him explain the procedures was an extraordinary opportunity for surgeons in Colorado. When the casts were removed some months later, the boy was reported to be able to walk normally.

The entry about Dr. Ghillini in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani mentions that he had operated on a boy in Denver with a severe form of congenital clubfeet using procedures he had described in 1894 in the Bullettino delle scienze mediche. The article also mentions that during the 1890s Dr. Ghillini promoted the establishment of specialist clinics in Bologna for indigent people who would otherwise not have access to healthcare.

Dr. Cesare Gillini's classmate Aldo Massarenti, MD, practiced in Denver for about six years.

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