Thursday, July 11, 2013

1949-1969: The National Foundation for Asthmatic Children

One of the main reasons National Jewish Health was able to stay afloat through the years is that it recognized the changing health needs in America. While both National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives and Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children opened to provide opportunities for children and adults inflicted or affected by tuberculosis.

Between the 1940s and 1960s the number of tuberculosis patients declined, and the number of asthma patients increased. Plus there as a need for taking care of patients with other diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, silicosis, sarcoidosis, and fungal infections (1)

Yet there was also an increased emphasis on research, hence the name change of the Sheltering home to Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children at Denver in 1953, and in 1957 to Children's Asthma Research Institute & Hospital (CARIH). The hospital also performed research into immunity, and this was a major reason for the 1985 name change of National Jewish Hospital/ National Asthma Center to National Jewish Center for Immunology & Respiratory Medicine.

There was another institution in Tuscon, Ariona, that was similar to National Jewish. People with lung ailments flocked to Arizona due to its dry climate, which was perceived to better for adults and children with breathing difficulties. The National Foundation for Asthmatic Children (NFAC) was opened in Arizona in 1949. It was actually the first "diseased based organization to launch a national campaign on behalf of the asthmatic child. (2, page 115) During the 1950s National Jewish Home for Asthmatic Children started a similar educational campaign. (2, page 116)

Back then asthma was a little known disease, yet a massive advertising and public relations campaign by both National Jewish and NFAC increased awareness of the 2.5 million children in America with asthma. The campaigns increased awareness of the hospitals and research centers in both Denver and Tuscon. And the number of patients being referred to these hospitals increased. (2, page 116)

In 1973 CARIH changed its name to National Asthma Center, and admitted financial trouble by 1978, so it merged with National Jewish to create National Jewish Hospital/ National Asthma Center. This created the largest asthma hospital and research center in the world. Although there was an emphasis on patient care, the hospital continued to emphasize research.

While the school at NFAC closed in 1969, the hospital persisted. It was another option for children with hardluck asthma or other respiratory diseases. There was another such hospital in New York called Asthmatic Children's Foundation. In 1981 there were 15 similar residential treatment centers for asthmatics. (3)

In August of 2009 several former patients at NFAC met in Tuscon, Arizona to reminisce about their stay at the institution. The major emphasis back then about asthma was that medicine was used to treat acute symptoms, with included bronchospasm. Asthma was also a disease caused by a nervous disorder, or a suppressed cry for the mother. (4)

These kids were treated with a good course of education, exercise, and a good, healthy diet. They were also allowed to live a relatively normal life outside of that, by going on trips to town like normal kids, shopping, tours, amusement parks, parks, etc. They were also allowed to participate in games and other fun things kids do.

The kids "attend a boarding school for asthmatic children. These children can play out of doors year round and they become confident and competitive because they are competing with children on their own level," according A.B. Sieh, executive director for NFAC, in an article published in the Rotarian in August 1965. (5, page 51)

Boys and girls afflicted with bronchial asthma generally are admitted to the hospital for a one or two year stay, and this is at no charge, similar to the two asthma hospitals in Denver. The school the kids attend has a capacity of 72, and it's usually full (5, page 51)

Sieh notes that the "they come here pigeon chested with hollow eyes and sad faces... we have had children, who upon arrival, who could not walk up a single step without bringing on an asthma attack... the Arizona sun takes over and we have healthy looking children who can go home -- not cured, but rehabilitated to the point that they can cope with their asthma and live a normal life, attend public schools, and not be 'different.'

So while the main goal was to improve asthma, it wasn't like you were living in a hospital, at least not all the time. It allowed kids to get better, so they could go on to live normal lives.

  1. "Clinical History,",, accessed 11/7/12
  2. Mitman, Gregg, "Breathing Space," 2007
  3. Melvin, Tessa, "For 36 Children, Hope on Asthma," New York Times, September 26, 1982
  4. Beal, Tom, "Tuscon asthmatic kids of reunite, view latest research," Arizona Daily Star, August 3, 2009
  5. "These Rotarians: ABCs School," The Rotarian: An International Magazine, August, 1965

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