Friday, 21 March 2008


Award-winning American doctor
Patient of András Pető

A blurred, twenty-year-old photocopy of a letter published in a Hungarian newspaper offers a tantalising possibility of a direct personal link with András Pető and his work with children suffering the effects of polio.
1948 nyarán, mikor még nem volt Salt-oltás Magyarországon, kislyánom, Geiger Julika, 2 és fel éves korában súlyos paralisist kapott és évekig a Pető Intezet páciense volt. Most a mellékelt kép szerint, Ronald Regan elnök nevében a legmagasabb orvosi kitüntetest nyújtottak át neki Washingtonban. Az “év orvosát” 600 ezer orvos közül válaszjak.

Nagyon hálás lennék, ha doktor Pető Andrásnak, kinek cimet nem tudom, köszönetemek fejeznek ki, mivel az ő inspirációja késztette, hogy orvosi tevékenységét főleg a balesetet szenvidetel gyógyitására irányitsa.

Geiger Imréné, London, Nagy-Britannia

(Sajnos, csupán a levél közzététélére vallalkozhatunk, Pető doktor már nincz az élők sorában. Az általa alapitott intézet évizedunkben vált vilaghirűvé. – A. Szerk)
This means something as follows.
In the summer of 1948, when there was still no Salk vaccine in Hungary, my little girl Juli Geiger, two-and-a-half years of age, was severely paralysed and was for years a patient at the Pető Institute. Now the picture is different, in Washington, in the name of President Ronald Reagan, she has been awarded the highest medical honour. She has been elected “Doctor of the Year” out of 600 thousand doctors.

I would be very grateful to thank Dr András Pető, whose address I do not know, because he provided her inspiration to work as a doctor, above all guiding her to treating those suffering from accidents.
Mrs Imré Geiger, London, Great Britain
(Unfortunately, we can only undertake to publish the letter, Dr Pető is already not in the ranks of the living. The institute that he founded has become world-famous in our present decade. – A. Szerk)
Juli Geiger was of course very young when she was treated by András Pető. All the same, it would be fascinating to hear her views and opinions. Has anyone in the American movement had any contact with her?

The English patient

Juli Geiger was not the first of András Pető’s patients to live and succeed in ‘the West’. During the United Kingdom’s intense national attention to Conductive Education following the BBC’s screening of Standing up for Joe, Joan Savage identified herself as having been treated for paralysis by András Pető in Budapest when she was a girl.

Joan Savage was born in 1936, the English daughter of Hungarian parents. Her early childhood was spent in the English Lake District where, in 1941, she contracted scarlet fever, followed by encephalitis. She lost the use of her right arm and leg and was left without speech (she was previously speaking in English, Hungarian and German). She learned to walk and to talk again but her walking was not satisfactory and her right hand as twisted and spastic.

In 1947, aged eleven years, she had a holiday with an aunt in Budapest. Her uncle was a doctor and took her to see an orthopaedic specialist, a Dr Zinner, who referred him to András Pető. It was agreed to extend her ‘holiday’ and she spent a year and a half in András Pető embryo institute.

Joan Savage was rather older than Juli Geiger when András Pető treated her and retained vivid memories of her year and a half with him She published a brief but vivid account of her memories of that time, in the first issue of the magazine Special Children. Here is some of what she wrote nearly forty years later, an interesting benchmark for what has changed, and what remains the same…
Dr Pető was very impressive. I remember him as being large and jolly and I thought that he looked exactly like Winston Churchill, complete with cigar…
He told my aunt and uncle that he would accept me at his clinic, providing that I stayed in Hungary indefinitely…
We had to work hard, from 7.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m., six days a week. I was free on Sundays as a special concession on Dr Pető’s part as I was his first foreign patient and English (he admired the English greatly).
To begin with I was frightened at being left alone in a strange place. There was no such thing as parental participation, parents and relatives were firmly kept out. Imagine being 11 and tipped into a society where the language was peculiar, I had not regained my former knowledge of Hungarian, and the customs were definitely odd.
After English boarding school, where I was mollycoddled beyond belief and was not allowed to do anything physical that might harm me. I was suddenly made to exercise my body 13 hours a day using muscles I did not know I had.
Everybody had massages and everybody did exercises to music. Rhythm was Dr Pető’s fetish, he was a great music-lover and I learned all the current pop songs. Gradually I made friends, learned the language and became immersed in what I was doing.
We lived for our exercises. We had no medicines, our only medication was great lumps of raw yeast at lunchtime and raw egg in the afternoon… they were thought to be good for you.
Dr Pető was very autocratic and wholeheartedly convinced that his method of treating spastics was the right one. I saw some near-miracles; children whose parents thought that they would never walk threw their crutches away…
I learned a great deal from Dr Pető: will power, hard work, perseverance, always aim a bit higher than you think you can manage. My family, mother, husband, three children, are almost driven mad sometimes because I will not let my disability stand in the way of things I want to do. Friends who saw the programme [Standing up for Joe] say they can see my attitudes reflected, a stubborn inability to accept defeat.
June Savage, Memories of Budapest, Special Children, vol. 1, no 1, p.12, 1986

Véra Sárkony

In the early years of extracting Conductive Education from Budapest a number of Hungarians played important roles in easing the sometimes difficult situations that we experienced in the Hungary of the day.

The letter reproduced and translated above, appeared, I think, in the Hungarian daily national newspaper Magyar Hírlap. Such unsung heroes in the internationalisation of Conductive Education merit further acknowledgement elsewhere. One was the late Véra Sárkony, journalist for the English Section of Magyar Rádió. Inter alia, Véra provided photocopies of relevant items from the Rádió’s extensive press cuttings library. This letter turned up in that haul.

I received the photocopy in October 1988 and I think that it had been published the previous month. There is no date on the page but there is a scribbled note in her hand saying Magyar Hírlap. All most unscholarly, I know, but there were more pressing, practical things to worry about at the time than attributing every press-cutting!

I am not the only one who remembers Véra with affection and respect:

(scroll down to HUNGARY)

Szófia Szeszák

I am also pleased to acknowledge here that much more recently, last Wednesday to be exact, I received further invaluable help – in translating this letter – from Szófia Szeszák (aged 14½).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home