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Tuberculosis; The Great White Plague

Updated on July 6, 2012

For many, hope was found in the mountains.

Anyone who has read my novel Liberty for the Lion Shield knows that my grandparents were medical heros in the battle against T. B. In their youth and vitality they sacraficed it all to help serve others. Imagine a hundred and twenty thousand people dying of one spreading disease this year. In 1907, nearly 400 Americans were dying every day. Tuberculosis was their killer. It was a chronic exhausting malady that destroyed many lives and families all across our nation. Little was known about the bacteria that caused it and there was a public out cry for our government officials to act. Specialized hospitals were built with government funding and yet, the plauge lingered on.

In 1882, a German scientist named Robert Koch was the first to isolate the pipe shaped bacillus called tuberculosis. From this discovery a substance was developed to treat the disease. Unfortunately, for millions all over the world the substance Tuberculin proved to be more of a diagnostic rather than a cure. Patients were often left isolated in quarentine hospital facilities and left to slowly deteriorate and die separated from family and loved ones.

A man named Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau would become a leader in health care and change the way tuberculosis was treated. As a practicing doctor in New York City he contracted the disease himself from his patients. Afflicted with illness, he found a peaceful refuge in the fresh cold climate of the Adirondack Mountains. In time his symtoms began to diminish. This inspired this brave man to found the Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium Hospital in the northern town of Saranac Lake, N.Y. A push for state funding by the public gave way to the construction of the Ray Brook State Hospital for sufferers of tuberculosis. A small army of heroic health and medical professionals came to Saranac Lake to treat them. They risked their own lives to help save others.

Saranac Lake, N.Y. became a town of hope as the belief that clean air, good nutrition, and bedrest was found to be the best way to fight the disease. The philosophies that developed in that time are believed to be true and are used in treating other illnesses today. Sufferers flocked to the mountains. Veterans who had contracted the disease in filthy war trenches followed. Local Governments designed an identification card system that required everyone who came to town for treatment carry that card on their person.

Tuberculosis is a cruel disease. The bacterium forms abcesses throughout the body. Sufferers choke from these formations in the lungs. To most, it is known as a pulmonary disease however, it can spread to many other parts of the body. It can lodge in the neck, the spine, the heart, even the kidneys leaving the patient with Bright's Disease. Lessions can form in the brain. There is a form of cervical tuberculosis. Sacks of puss that resemble cooked rice can accumulate in the joints or the back pushing the spine or other bones out of place. Those who contract the disease deep in the lungs often bleed to death from lessions in the lung tissue. It is a horrifying disease. Today, tuberculosis is treated with anti-biotics yet, it can take up to a full year of treatment before the patient can recover.

After World War II and the discovery of anti-biotics, the breaks were put on for the spread of tuberculosis in the United States. This does not mean the battle is over. We did not eradicate this disease world wide.The continuation of testing is an absolute crucial implementation by the government. The use of anti- biotics gave us the ability to get control over the disease here in America. It is still a deadly disease over seas and tuberculosis still poses a threat to us all. Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS has played a major role in the continued spread of T.B. Also new strains of the bacteria have been found that are anti-biotic resistant. That is a global threat we all need to take seriously. The potential spread of an anti-biotic resistant strain could wipe out another generation if left unchecked and ignored. We still need to be vigilant about this subject. I suggest our nation maintain an effort to keep continued support of organizations such as the Rotary Club and the Red Cross. That is most likely our best weapons to date for keeping this dreadful disease at bay.

I wrote Liberty for the Lion Shield to honor my grandparents in their fight against this horrible disease. They are in heaven, now. I am just keeping their mission alive by sharing their story. Anyone who would like to read more about them can find their story in my novel Liberty for the LIon Shield. By Joanne Kathleen Farrell



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