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Sister Kenny

Sister Kenny(1946)


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In 1911, Elizabeth Kenny returns to her home in the outback of Queensland, Australia, a recent graduate of a Brisbane nursing school. Although her friend and mentor, Dr. Aeneas McDonnell, advises her to leave the harsh bush and practice in Brisbane, Elizabeth is determined to bring medicine to her needy neighbors. Two years later, during a dance held in her honor, Elizabeth is called away to treat an ill child, Dorrie McIntyre. Dorrie's legs are severely cramped, and her back is arched in writhing pain. As Elizabeth does not know how to diagnose Dorrie, she cables McDonnell, carefully describing the child's symptoms. McDonnell cables back that Dorrie is suffering from infantile paralysis, a newly discovered, epidemic disease for which there is no known cure. Taking McDonnell's advice to treat Dorrie's symptoms as best she can, Elizabeth applies hot, wet rags to the child's twisted legs and back. Although Dorrie's pain immediately abates, Elizabeth discovers when she returns ten days later with her fiancé, army captain Kevin Conners, that Dorrie's legs are paralyzed. Determined to cure Dorrie, Elizabeth studies her limp legs and notices that a tendon on top of her knee protrudes when the limb is bent. As Kevin and Dorrie's parents watch anxiously, Elizabeth declares that some of Dorrie's leg muscles have become "alienated" from her brain and instructs the child to move her leg by concentrating on her knee. To everyone's relief, Elizabeth's treatment works, and soon Dorrie and the five other stricken children she is attending are walking again. Fresh from her triumph in the bush, Elizabeth goes to Brisbane with Dorrie and Kevin to inform McDonnell that she and Kevin are marrying. Before she breaks the news, however, she stuns McDonnell when she tells him about her incredible success with the polio epidemic. Excited, McDonnell takes her to see his superior, orthopedic specialist Dr. Charles Brack. When Elizabeth uses the words "spasm," "alienation" and "re-education" to describe her treatment, Brack dismisses her as a well-meaning amateur and intimates that her original diagnosis was incorrect. McDonnell tries to convince Brack to allow Elizabeth to treat one of his acutely affected polio patients, but he flatly refuses to give her a chance. Still supportive of Elizabeth, McDonnell suggests that she treat one of Brack's discharged patients as a way of proving her methodology to Brack, but Elizabeth tells him that she is getting married and, because of an Australian law that says that nurses must be single, will be unable to pursue her career. Sometime later, however, the still unmarried Elizabeth opens a clinic and begins curing Brack's failures. Kevin's departure for World War I curtails her clinic activities, as she chooses to follow him to the front and then to England, where he recuperates from an injury. While she is away, McDonnell makes an unsuccessful attempt at using her methods on one of Brack's patients and is soundly criticized by his superior. Elizabeth, meanwhile, reiterates to Kevin her desire to marry, but soon finds herself opening a clinic in her home town. Ten years later, Elizabeth, whose popular reputation is growing around the country, finally admits to Kevin that her profession is more important to her than marriage. After another decade, Elizabeth grows weary of her continuing back-door status and confronts Brack as he is giving a lecture on polio. The enraged Brack ridicules her and threatens to have her clinic closed down. McDonnell, however, has been working to have her treatment recognized by the Australian medical community and has arranged for a royal commission to study it. When Elizabeth expresses doubts over her chances, McDonnell insists that the "walls of Jericho" will soon be falling down and encourages her to continue. While the commission takes its time preparing its report, Elizabeth travels to England and other parts of Europe with her cure. Upon her return to Australia in 1939, she learns from McDonnell that the commission has ruled that her methods are not provable and has recommended closing down her clinics. Despite a worsening heart condition, Elizabeth, who has since written a book about her experiences, tells McDonnell that she is going to America. There Elizabeth receives a mixed reception by the press and medical community, but is invited to open a clinic at the University of Minnesota. Three years later, while lecturing at her Kenny Institute on her birthday, Elizabeth learns not only that her beloved McDonnell has died, but also that yet another commission has refused to validate her. Despite this setback, Elizabeth finds comfort when a large group of her young patients joyously sing her birthday wishes.