Thursday, January 02, 2014

Asthma History: Part II Introduction

A group of girls learn to sew during a class at the National Home 
or Jewish Children at Denver. The National Home for Jewish Children
at Denver's history began in 1907 as the Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish 
Children, which was a refuge for lower-income children whose parents 
were being treated for tuberculosis, or had passed away 
from tuberculosis.In 1928 the institution changed names to the National \
Home for Jewish Children in Denver.
So far in my history of asthma the story comes from second hand accounts, or historians, or from physicians taking care of asthma patients.  From this point on my accounts of the story of asthma will come from real patients.  If I could I'd make all my asthma history from real life accounts, but unfortunately most asthmatics through time did not, or could not, record their stories unless they so happened to be the physician or historian.  

Of course there were some exceptions.  Teddy Roosevelt and Marcel Proust both kept a journal of their asthma episodes, although in neither case was the intent to create a biography or history of asthma.  Plus Proust was a writer, and Teddy a famous U.S. President. So any attempt to learn about asthma from a lay person will most often lead to a dead end.  In fact, even on the Internet today I have found very few people who do, or are willing to, write about their asthma.  

A group of children in one of the classrooms at National
Jewish Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Teachers
were provided by the Denver Public School System
and young patients were able to complete all grade
and high school requirements while admitted to the hospital.
Children attended the Kunsburg School which was on the
NJH campus. It opened in the 1930s and continues to be open
today. I attended the school from January to June of 1985(3)
There are a couple reason's I'd like to speculate on as to why so few asthmatics write about their plight.  First, few want to recollect bad memories, as most asthma remedies are.  When I talked to my Uncle Casimer about his adventures on D-Day he never once willingly told me any stories about it.  It think most people who live through those stressful days simply want to move on from them and focus on the positive memories, and move on from there.  

A second reason, I think, is that most people are modest and don't want to talk about themselves.  Or some of us may simply feel uncomfortable when the light is shining on us, and therefore prefer to stay on the outside of any diary, journal, blog, or book.  Now I'm sure if someone, like a child or grandchild, asked the question a good story would be told, yet most of us prefer to hear stories our children tell as opposed to our own. So good asthma stories stay locked up forever.  

Female juvenile patients playing at National 

Jewish Hospital for Consumptives, ca. 1907 (4)
And even while I spent six months as a patient at National Jewish Hospital/ National Asthma Center from January to July in 1985, I have been able to regain contact with only two of the people I met there, one being my counselor, and another being my gym instructor.  So this brings me to the third reason few asthma stories were told: no way to tell the story.  

Yes, back in 1985 there were typewriters and mail, but to use those techniques you had to go out of your way.  Today we have the Internet, and people can stay in touch quite simply.  All I have to do now is find a friend on facebook and make him my Facebook friend.  We can keep in touch forever if we want.  Yet back in 1985, back in 2000, this wasn't possible for most of us.  Back in 1985 the cameras were cheap and developing film expensive.  Writing letters was possible, but letters got tossed out.  

Nurse taking temperature (4)
Thankfully, however, I kept all the letters sent to me while I was at the hospital.  And even while I was doing this my friends and the nurses at NJH made fun of me for this.  Yet I continued to hide them in a bag in the bottom of my dresser, and took them home with me.  Twenty years later I was able to use them to write my story.  And that is basically how my history began, by me reliving my story through letters written to me, and letters I wrote that my mom and grandma saved.  

The other thing that got me going on this history was by simply asking the question: what would it be like if I had asthma before today?  What would it if I lived with asthma before the Alupent inhaler was invented?  I bet it wouldn't have been very fun.  And so my quest began, and so my journey took me all the way back to 30,000 B.C. and then all the way to 1922.  

And so here we are.  From this point on I will tell the story through my own eyes, and through the eyes of people willing to share their stories.  I will, however, keep all names to myself.  And I will also try not to reveal details that will make a person stand out.  Now, I'm sure most of the stories I share are stories people would like to share, yet still I'm keeping names private.  That's the least I can do.  The only name I'm revealing is my own, and even my own name is a pen name.  I too am a victim of difficulty talking about myself, lest I write as someone else.  

The stories told will be from patients from one or another of the following institutions:
  • National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives (1899-1925).  This was a hospital opened to provide help for consumptive patients who had no money
  • Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children (1907-28).  This was a home opened to take care of children who's parents suffered from consumption, or who were housed at National Jewish Hospital.  The name was changed to National Home for Jewish Children in Denver in 1928.
  • National Home for Jewish Children in Denver: 1928-1953
  • National Jewish Hospital at Denver (1925-1965). This was the new name for National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives.  The hospital accepted both asthmatic children and adults.  There was no fee for this service. (1, page 34))
  • Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children at Denver (1953-1957) This was the new name for the National Home for Jewish Children at Denver.  It was changed because asthma patients started to outnumber tuberculosis patients. It was home to 162 patients and 62 staff members, including physicians, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, house parents, etc. (2, page 116)  It was changed to CARIH in 1957.
  • Children's Asthma Research Institute & Hospital (CARIH) (1957-1973). The asthma center changed it's name to shed light on the changing patient load, and moved into a new facility (2, page 163).  The hospital admitted children 6-15 years for 18-24 months In 1973 the name was changed to NAC.  
  • National Asthma Center (1973-1986). NAC. merged with NJH in 1978.
  • National Jewish Hospital / National Asthma Center (1978-1985).  
  • National Jewish Center for Immunology & Respiratory Medicine (1985-1997). This name change showed the changing role of the hospital as taking care of more than just tuberculosis and asthma patients.  
  • National Jewish Medical and Research Center (1997-2008).  This name changed emphasised the role of research as a major part of the hospital.  
  • National Jewish Health: 2008- Present.  The new name simplified everything, and pretty much went back to the initial name minus the Consumptive part.  This shows respect to the community that started all the above hospitals, and is a major part of its history.  I think the major reason for the change is that asthma is no longer the main emphasis.  
This story is for all the patients who benefited from the services at any one of these fine institutions.

  1. Harvey, Robert W, "Changing Times: Kiplinger's Personal Finance," January, 1970, Published by Austin H. Kiplinger, page 
  2. Minton, Gregg, "Breathing Space," 2007, 
  3. School Class at National Jewish Hospital, Denver Public Library, accessed 11/8/12
  4. National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives' Records (B005), Special Collections & Archives (Beck Archives), University of Denver, Penrose Library,, accessed 11/8/12

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