For much of the world, polio and its devastating effects are that of a bygone era. Thanks to vaccines that came into use in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, the virus that historically left millions dead or with some degree of paralysis has nearly been wiped from the face of the earth.
An upcoming event in Farmington Hills will highlight a major role a facility in the local community once had in treatment of those infected – and spread word about efforts to eliminate polio altogether.
The Farmington Rotary Club, in cooperation with Botsford Commons Senior Community, is hosting a free public open house of the historic “Sister Kenny Hospital,” 1-4 p.m. April 23.
Elizabeth Kenny was an Australian nun credited with developing and promoting hydrotherapy as a treatment for polio. In the 1920s, she spent a considerable amount of time working with young patients at the Michigan Hospital for Crippled Children – which eventually was renamed the Sister Kenny Hospital, explained Ginger Barrons, a Rotarian for the past 26 years and District 6380 polio co-chair. Designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, the building is now part of the Botsford Senior Living Center – which will open its doors to guided tours for the open house.
“It’s a really cool piece of Farmington history,” Barrons said. “The Farmington-Farmington Hills area served as a key place for the revolution of polio treatment worldwide. I don’t think many people in the community know about that, but they should.”
Impressive features of the former hospital include Kahn’s “stunning architecture,” she said, including red brick, arched doorways, slate roofs and limestone inlays of children playing.
“And in the basement, you can still see the original outskirts of the pool (where hydrotherapy took place),” she said.
Also, photos from the Sister Kenny Hospital time period will be on display, on loan from the Walter Reuther Historical Library collection.
Along with allowing a look inside a historic building that’s typically not open to the public, the April 23 event will “help build awareness and advocacy, and raise funds” for polio eradication, the “number one health goal of Rotarians,” Barrons added.
Thanks to efforts by Rotarians, as well as the World Health Organization and others, to vaccinate children across the globe, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries where new cases of the disease still emerge – but the numbers are dwindling, she said.
“We’re very, very close to eradication. Last year, just 21 new cases were reported,” she said.
Free-will donations will be accepted at the open house for the Rotarians’ Polio Eradication Fund.
The Botsford Senior Living Center is at 21400 Archwood Circle, off Tuck Road north of Eight Mile Road in Farmington Hills.