Of course, I’m speaking of today’s ABC Wednesday letter G and the opening of the Paralympics founded by Ludwig ‘Poppa’ Guttmann. But hopeful,ly this doesn’t come too late.
Guttmann was born in Upper Silesia, Germany, in 1899 in what is now Toszek in Poland. He met his first patient with a spinal cord injury while working in a hospital in the city of Konigshutte in 1917.
The following year he began his medical studies at the University of Breslau and later at University of Freiberg, qualifying as a doctor in 1924. He started work at the Jewish Hospital in Breslau and had become its director by the 1930s.
Following Kristallnacht and the attacks on Jews and their property in 1938, Guttmann ordered his staff to admit anyone without question and thus saved 60 people from the Gestapo and the concentration camps.
He took his family out of Germany in 1939 to escape the persecution and genocide and came to England, settling in Oxford and continuing his spinal injury research at the Radcliffe Infirmary.
In 1943, the British government asked Guttmann to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire where he treated severely injured servicemen.
He was a great believer in sport as both physical and psychological therapy and organised the Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled services personnel in 1948 to coincide with the second London Olympics.
The Stoke Mandeville Games became an annual event and by 1952 there were more than 130 international competitors taking part. In 1956, Guttmann was awarded the Sir Thomas Fearnley Cup by the International Olympic Committee for his ‘meritorious achievement in service to the Olympic movement through the social and human value derived from wheelchair sports’.
Guttmann was awarded the OBE and MBE and was knighted in 1966 for his services to both medicine and sport. The BBC also celebrated his work in the inspirational play, The Best of Men, broadcast in August this year.
UPDATE: The Best of Men will be shown again on the BBC on Sunday, 2 September at 10pm and will be available on iPlayer soon after.