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Gonzales Warm Springs Foundation

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by Gene Fowler
While drilling for oil in Gonzales County in 1909, Producers Oil Company of Houston struck an artesian gusher of hot mineral water. The company, working near the San Marcos River 10 miles north of Gonzales, drilled through a stratum of “mean rock” (oil field lingo for hard stone) with a special cone rock bit invented by Walter Sharp and Howard Hughes. The drilling unleashed a flow of 9,000 gallons per hour from a depth of 1,550 feet. Scientific analysis of the water to determine its temperature (106 degrees) and mineral content led locals to believe that it could prove medically useful.

Unlike their reaction to discoveries of other natural healing founts across Texas, health-seekers did not immediately rush to create a spa. But when the polio epidemic struck in the late 1930s, area businessmen formed the Gonzales Warm Springs Foundation for Crippled Children and built a small hospital near the well in 1937. The first physical therapist to work there, Loraine Millican (now retired and living in Corpus Christi), used the water as part of a new therapy called the Kenny Method. Named for Australian nurse Sister Elizabeth Kenny, the treatment used hot, moist packs and pool therapy instead of the usual massage for the muscles.

After Jonas Salk discovered a polio vaccine in the early 1950s, Warm Springs changed its focus to physical therapy and rehabilitation of conditions caused by serious injury and by diseases other than polio (though some polio treatment continued). The facility grew steadily, with the addition of distinctive, Spanish-style buildings with red tile roofs.

In 1962, financial problems almost forced Warm Springs to close. But numerous fund-raisers saved it, including benefits by Spencer Tracy and Greer Garson, as well as movie-première appearances at Texas theaters by Joan Crawford, who had visited the hospital and had been impressed by its work.

Gonzales cafe owner Al Berry and his pet sheep, Wando, also helped with the rescue efforts. Al and Wando traveled the livestock auction circuit, “auctioning” the sheep repeatedly at each stop. Two years and thousands of Wando “sales” later—and after Wando had eaten the roof lining of Al’s station wagon and part of his best suit—the duo had raised $55,000 for the hospital.

Today, Warm Springs Rehabilitation Foundation operates the original hospital near Gonzales, hospitals in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, and 20 outpatient clinics across Texas. Among its varied services, the foundation offers a Wheelchair Sports program and, since 1988, an Animal-Assisted Therapy Program that includes horseback riding. The natural gait of the horses, say therapists, helps patients “relearn the sensory input of their own walking movements.”

Former Warm Springs patient J.L. “Doc” Laird of Corpus Christi, who suffered (and recovered) from Guillain-Barré syndrome, echoes the feelings of most patients. Within the first five minutes, says Doc, “People at Warm Springs began offering me hope.... I went there with the attitude that these people could help me. I soon began to see [they] would show me how to help myself.”

Read 6412 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06

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