Guttmann, Sir Ludwig

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GUTTMANN, SIR LUDWIG

GUTTMANN, SIR LUDWIG (1899–1980), founder and former director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, England. Born in Upper Silesia, Germany, Guttmann was an accomplished neurosurgeon and medical director of the Jewish Hospital in Breslau when he was invited in 1939 to do research work at Oxford on his highly original – and at the time controversial – ideas on rehabilitating persons suffering from irreversible spinal injuries that resulted in paraplegia. He made England his home and acquired world fame with his treatment and rehabilitation of paraplegics.

In 1944, when the impending Allied invasion of Hitler's Europe was expected to lead to large numbers of serious injuries, Guttmann was invited by the British government to put his ideas into practice at Stoke Mandeville. His single-minded determination produced remarkable results; through his methods of treatment, coupled with a deep humanity and understanding (he was known by his patients as "Poppa Guttmann"), many of the wounded were able to live useful lives, which previously would have been denied them. He reduced the death rate of paraplegics from over 80% to under 10% within three years of injury, and after an average stay at Stoke Mandeville of less than one year, 75% of those released were gainfully employed. His establishment of the increasingly successful annual Stoke Mandeville Games was a practical expression of his determination that paraplegics lead normal lives in all respects. Guttmann was consulted by many countries throughout the world on the establishment of paraplegic centers, and as a result of his visit to Israel in 1949 the paraplegic center at Tel Ha-Shomer was opened in 1953. Probably his most lasting legacy was the establishment of the Paralympic Games, which grew out of his Stoke Mandeville games. These began as an international event in 1948 to coincide with the Olympic Games held that year in London. These are now a major, mainstream international event.

The many honors bestowed upon him include the Rehabilitation Prize of the World Veterans' Association in 1953 (he was the first recipient). He was awarded successively the o.b.e., the c.b.e., and in 1966 a Knighthood by Britain, and the minister of pensions said in 1945: "Thank you, Hitler, for sending us men like these." In 1972 President Heinemann bestowed upon him the Star of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic, West Germany's highest award, at the 21st international Stoke Mandeville Games for the paralyzed held in Heidelberg, Germany.

Both Sir Ludwig and Lady Guttmann were active in the local Jewish community and supported Israel's cause in many ways.

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[Michael Wallach]