My Mum, Physio to Dr Guttman’s Patients

Margaret McKay, my elderly mother has a story to tell: Then called Margaret Gardner, during the Second World War she was a physiotherapist at Kings College Hospital, where she was in charge of  the gym.

Margaret McKay (was Gardner) She closes her eyes  “I can see him now… Dr Guttman was Jewish, he escaped from Germany with his wife and child when he saw what was happening with the Nazis. He came to England but he wasn’t allowed to practice, he had to take lots of exams even though he was a highly qualified neurosurgeon. Such a clever chap, but only allowed to practice as a medical doctor. He was allowed to practice at Stoke Mandeville Hospital though, that was where they went to die.”


“The soldiers with terrible spinal injuries. I did my physio training at The London Hospital, we were fast tracked because the war was on, with lectures in the evenings, after I completed my training I went to work at Kings College Hospital.” (Her great love was Ballet if it hadn’t been for the war she would have followed that dream and continued her ballet training.)

Dr Guttman Shuts her eyes again “I can see him  … he said these men deserve more than this, he came to me at Kings College Hospital and said ‘I’m going to send you 2 private patients, two French men’. One had been electrocuted, fallen off a ladder and paralysed. I had parallel bars, I tried to get the patients standing between the bars. Dr Guttman would come in the evenings to see how his patients were doing, he talked to me about his great dream to have a sports day in the grounds of Stoke Mandeville and to get other hospitals to join in from across the whole country.

I would go regularly to treat his patients in Stoke Mandeville. He had a Heath Robinson contraption over the bed, it was wooden with parallel bars with slings hanging from the frame. We would put the patient in the slings and the patient would swing about. It was very improvised. He would stand by the bed to advise and watch their progress and improvement. Dr Guttman put order into chaos at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

There was an East End boy who was an amateur boxer, he was hit on the spine which produced a hematoma, gradually he was becoming more and more paralysed because he was being forced to do things he shouldn’t have done, it was bleeding into his spine. His father used to laugh at him, Dr Guttman took him to Stoke Mandeville. One day when I went to Stoke Mandeville, a voice said ‘Hello Miss Gardner’, I looked around and I saw a boy between the parallel bars, it was this boy, Dr Guttman was such a wonderful chap he got him walking again.

He took me round the grounds and said ‘Look I’ve got my baby started’ he had got the paraplegics using bows and arrows and had started wheelchair games.

I used to play wheel chair basket ball with the paraplegics. You can’t help when you came to bounce the ball putting weight on your feet, and I would go catapulting out of the chair, they all laughed, very funny seeing Miss flying out of the chair. In good weather we went outside to shoot targets.

Later when I was pregnant and went to Stoke Mandeville, he rushed over and hugged me and said ‘I knew you were pregnant because of the look about you’ – maybe it was my eyes.”


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