Saturday, March 8, 2014

Leprosy: The Miracle of Carville, Louisiana Leper Home

Imagine that you discover white spots on your skin. Imagine that the discolored skin has no sensation. Imagine going to the doctor; the doctor takes a skin sample and checks it under the microscope. Imagine the doctor informing you, you have the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, the same bacterium discovered in 1873 by the Norwegian doctor, Gerhard Armauer Hansen. In short, you have leprosy or Hansen's Disease. Imagine.

Now there is cure for leprosy but until 1941, there was none. Patients had to be quarantined, separated from their families, friends, their old lives. People called you "cursed." They feared and reviled you. During biblical days, lepers rang bells and called out "unclean" to warn others of their presence. I had seen some inactive lepers in the Philippines, begging, and some of them had lost their fingers; some were blind; their faces were deformed.

It's a terrible disease.

From my recent research I learned that the first leprosarium in the United States was founded in 1894 in Carville, Louisiana. In the late 1700s, there were records of African slaves who had leprosy. By the late 1800s, people were aware and afraid of leprosy, thus the creation of the leprosarium by the State of Louisiana on a pre-Civil War plantation called the Indian Camp Plantation. This sat on 450 acres at the river's bend and was surrounded by water on three sides.

In Carville, when patients were brought in (some had to be shackled and forced to go there) they gave up their real names so their families would not be stigmatized. They took on another name and had a patient number. The nuns in particular impress me because they were whole but willingly went to serve the lepers.

From the start, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul worked there. In 1896, four nuns arrived with some lepers to start the leper home. Their new home, the plantation, was in terrible condition, and the "mansion" which was the nun's residence was barely habitable. The patients lived in the slave cabins. At times, they did not have water and had to fetch water at the river. Many times, they did not have a chaplain and would go for long spells without the sacraments.

What I find wonderful is that it was at Carville where the cure for leprosy was discovered. After decades of experimentation the "Miracle of Carville" was discovered by Dr. Guy Henry Faget in 1941. It was promin, a sulfone compound that could stop leprosy. The discovery was revolutionary. Patients no longer needed to be quarantined but could be outpatients.
Here are some Medical Advances as listed in Wikipedia
The 1941 development of sulfone therapy, a type of chemotherapy, made leprosy non-contagious.[20]
• Daspone pills became widely used for treating leprosy in the 1950s.
• In 1981, The World Health Organization recommended using a multi-drug treatment regimen to treat leprosy.
• In 2011, researchers at the National Hansen's Disease Program published their findings that leprosy in Louisiana and in other southern states may be linked to contact with armadillos. They came to this conclusion after finding that armadillos had the same strain of leprosy as human patients in Baton Rouge did.
• Currently, researchers are trying to develop a leprosy vaccine and are trying to find new methods of detection.

There's more to read about leprosy and leprosariums. It's amazing how fascinating this "ancient" disease can be.

Have a great weekend!
Photos courtesy of St. Gabriel Catholic Church and Wikipedia
Read also
The Daughters of Charity at Carville: 1896-1981
A Brief History of Sacred Heart Chapel, Carville, LA
Carville's Legacy
Triumph at Carville
Annals of Medicine
Chaulmoogra Oil and the Treatment of Leprosy

Creative Writing: The Importance of Sensual Writing
Creative Writing: Journal Writing and my Pink Lock and Key Diary
Creative Writing: Your Writing Work Space (In My Case, Where My Cats Hang Out)

This is all for now,

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