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Surviving 3 years in a sanitarium


Recently I was asked to facilitate a discussion at Michigan World TB day Event in Lansing, where I had the pleasure to meet an infectious (in a good way) gentleman named Alvin. Alvin is 90 years old and is currently dealing with his second case of Active Tuberculosis, his first diagnosis was at the age of 10 in 1940!

At the time of Alvin's first diagnosis, there was no medication available to treat tuberculosis and the cure was, as Alvin describes, "sunshine, organic food, fresh air, and daily consumption of cod-liver oil and tomato juice". Alvin's treatment took place at Maybury sanitorum in Northville, MI. At that time there were several sanatoriums in Michigan, and his mother was being treated concurrently at Herman-Keifer Hospital! Maybury specialized in acute cases of childhood tuberculosis and he was operated from his mother for 3 years during his treatment.

Maybury sanitarium was a city within itself consisting of around 40 buildings and could generate power and grow most of its own food. It served as a quarantine and recovery center as there was no formal cure for tuberculosis until many years later with the development of antibiotics.

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State and local anti-tuberculosis organizations led social movements to improve sanitary conditions through anti-spitting laws and health regulations, encouraged consumptives to seek medical treatment, and persuaded state and local governments to create a network of hospitals that isolated TB patients.

The development and use of streptomycin in the treatment of tuberculosis during World War II brought an end to the White Plague and the sanitarium movement. In the decades following a drug cure, many of these large complexes were abandoned and fell into ruin. The sanitarium was closed in 1969 when there was no longer a need for it. Most of the buildings had been torn down by 1975 when the State of Michigan Department of natural resources (MDNR) stepped in and the land became known as Maybury State Park in 2003.

EndFragmentThe patients of the Maybury Sanitorium, Herman Kiefer Hospital, Detroit Sanitorium, and Leland Sanitorium collectively published a monthly issue of “The Fluoroscope” You can search online and find some cool covers that have survived years at public libraries and are still around!

When I asked Alvin what he did for fun in his three year stay, he mentioned that he had a lot of fun sneaking into the girls wards and giving them hard time! He also said he made it 3 whole weeks playing "the floor is lava" and bouncing from beds to wheel chairs and never touching the ground! In 2018 Alvin's wife, MaryJane noticed that Alvin had noticeably lost weight and in in November of 2018 he was diagnosed with TB again. Alvin is scheduled to complete his treatment in May and other than this short hiccup of Tuberculosis he is strong, healthy, and still full of infectious energy!