Monday, February 20, 2012

Pott's Disease or Not

Reta HACKETT was not 100% certain whether she broke her back falling down stairs or she had tuberculosis of the spine, Pott's disease.  Then again, she was at best a preschooler when the treatments began around 1918 - 1921.

After some research, TRAEA's Grandma decided that Reta (pronounced Reta as in "cheetah," not Reta as in Greta) had TB (Potts disease).  I could be wrong.  The family story was sketchy at best:

  • She lived a long time on a "frame," and needed considerable care.
  • Reta was one of five children in a still growing family, and her parents, Elsie JONES and George Hackett, simply could not give extra attention to one child.
  • So she went to live with her widowed maternal grandmother, Carrie Maria FRENCH Jones.
  • Because Grandma Jones could not understand Reta, her next older sister, Hazel HACKETT, also went to live with Grandma Jones  
  • Reta's case was unusual and written up in medical journals.
The Surgical Diseases of Children, published in 1912 by D. Appleton and Company, discusses Pott's disease.

  • "Pott's disease is frequently found in childhood, specially from the second to the fifth years. . . . . "
  • Spinal deformities created by Pott's disease can be severe, and Pott's disease can lead to abscesses in other parts of the body or even paralysis.
  • "Absolute recumbency" is necessary "in general . . . . . from twelve to eighteen months" as part of the treatment.
  • The Whitman-Bradford frame ensured that.  It was made of small-diameter galvanized gas-pipe or steel tubing, slightly longer and almost as wise as the child.  It was covered with stretched canvas and two felt pads about an inch thick sewn along each side of the spine at the tuberculosis site.  
  • Whitman explains, "The child, wearing only an undershirt, stockings, and diaper, is placed upon the frame and is fixed there usually by a front piece or apron . . . . .  As soon as the patient has become accustomed to the restraint one begins to over-extend the spine by bending the bars from time to time, with the aim of actually separating the diseased vertebral bodies . . . . . so that the body shall be finally bent backward to form the segment of a circle.  The greatest convexity is at the seat of the disease. . . . . "
  • Patients lay on this frame continuously, except when they were turned over to clean and powder their back.
  • After patients no longer needed the frame, they were fitted with one of several forms of a steel brace or plaster jacket.

Although the Whitman-Bradford frame could explain "the frame" she recalled, what role was played by a tag that identified five-year-old Reta on a trip, probably to Boston?  (She lived in Taunton, MA, which does not have a North Station as listed on the tag.)

 Then there was the letter that she wrote about a year later to a family member, gleeful that she no longer needed the frame, but could "roll around the bed."  Since she didn't mention running around, she was likely still under treatment.

And a picture of a slightly older Reta in what is obviously a brace, standing next to her sister Hazel.  Grandmother Carrie Maria stands behind Hazel, and the others are unindentified.

Although the pieces seem to add up to Potts disease, there is one remaining question.  Where in the world of literature was the writeup?  Oodles of articles have been written about Potts disease, but so far this grandmother has yet to find any reference to the little girl from Taunton.  Another hunt.

Reta was a great granddaughter of William and Maria L. WILBUR Hackett, Abraham and Evelina REID Thompson, Benjamin Paul and Anjenette PETTIS Jones, and Ephraim and Mary BETTERLY French.

Thanks for the letter Debbie!

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