PUBLISHED: December 27, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. in the Press-Telegram
Editor’s note: This is the second of three excerpts the Press-Telegram will run from the forthcoming book, “Adelaide’s Legacy: Tichenor Orthopedic Clinic for Children.” Today’s excerpt — combining portions of chapters two, three and six — deals with how Tichenor Clinic, through innovative techniques and programs, meets the health needs of children with various conditions, including polio.
By Karen Robes Meeks,
A deep connection to the Long Beach community is what has sustained Tichenor Clinic for decades.
During the Great Depression, when many families could not afford to fix their children’s teeth, Tichenor Clinic partnered with a dental association and the city schools’ health and physical education department to open a dental clinic in 1932, allowing 1,500 schoolchildren to receive care at little to no cost. The Junior League of Long Beach later took control of the dental clinic, freeing up Tichenor Clinic to address other community needs.
Over the years, local groups sponsored holiday parties for children at the clinic, organized fundraisers to help Tichenor Clinic address patients with cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, and donated funds for much of the clinic’s equipment.
Ebell Club members offered money for braces, while the Alamitos Library Association and the Rick Rackers — an auxiliary group of Assistance League Long Beach — donated toward a shoe fund.
Long Beach Elks helped buy equipment and maintained the preschool.
Rotarians donated the first station wagon used to pick up patients and later provided the clinic with more station wagons.
The first electromyograph came from members of the USS Mispillion to honor a crewman who died in battle. The crewman’s daughter was a polio patient at Tichenor Clinic.
Much of the clinic’s polio treatment was made possible with funding from the Long Beach chapter of the March of Dimes, which spurred the community to raise funds on behalf of polio patients. Throughout the years, the Long Beach chapter invested in the clinic, paying for an additional nurse, a mobile hot-pack unit, hospital fees, physician services and braces. As the number of polio cases rose to what a 1948 Long Beach Independent article described as “emergency proportions,” the March of Dimes also helped fund a children’s post-polio ward in Long Beach, the first in the area.
It was a cooperative effort: Community Hospital offered the space, the food and the linens, while Tichenor Clinic provided physical therapists, local pediatricians and orthopedic doctors who donated their services.
A tradition of outstanding doctors
Since its inception almost a century ago, Tichenor Clinic has had a tradition of doctors who provided orthopedic care to hundreds of children from infancy up to the age of 18 at little or no cost to families.
The doctors at Tichenor Clinic have always been innovative and forward-thinking. In the early years, they used metal implants to heal a patient’s bones and established the area’s first bone bank so they could quickly rebuild damaged bones. They were the first in the area to use metal frames for turning patients bedridden with spine problems.
The clinic attracted pioneering physicians such as Dr. Ross Sutherland, the clinic’s first medical director, who served from 1926 to 1951. He co-published case studies, including one in 1944 about a simplified approach to hip surgery that allowed patients to be up and moving within weeks of a procedure.
Dr. H. Milton Van Dyke, who founded Pediatric Medical Center in Long Beach in 1933, was a Tichenor Clinic doctor. Dr. Roy Terry, who was on staff at the clinic in 1932, was a director of the former Seaside Hospital, the precursor to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.
Sutherland and Van Dyke later encouraged Dr. John Rowe to work at the clinic, where he would serve for more than 40 years and eventually become its legendary medical director from 1951 to 1984 and a board member from 1978 to 1984.
Even among the clinic’s pantheon of excellent physicians, Rowe stood out.
At 16, he attended Stanford University, graduating in 1930. After an internship and residency in orthopedic surgery at Los Angeles County Hospital and a teaching stint as an orthopedic surgery instructor at the University of Michigan, Rowe arrived in Long Beach in 1939, moving into the house his grandfather built on Temple Avenue.
In 1940, Van Dyke encouraged Rowe to visit Tichenor Clinic, which at the time was busy treating patients with a paralysis-causing virus known as polio.
In Long Beach, Tichenor Clinic was one of the few places helping polio patients.
Demand was so high at one point that the clinic’s 153 polio patients overflowed into Community Hospital, according to Gladdes Neff, the clinic’s executive director from 1938 to 1968.
“We were swamped with patients,” Neff said in 1978. “We took over a whole wing at Community. And we used so many volunteers. They would pack the little patients in hot packs, and they also would feed them.”
From the clinic’s inception to the late 1990s, Tichenor Clinic saw hundreds of polio patients, using a then-revolutionary method of treating children with heat packs and muscle therapy, a method Rowe introduced to the clinic.
Rowe joined Tichenor Clinic soon after that first visit in 1940, seeing clinic patients before opening his own private practice in Long Beach. As one of the few orthopedists in the city at the time, he performed surgical procedures at three Long Beach hospitals and consulted at the Naval Hospital while serving at Tichenor Clinic.
Doctors at the clinic pioneered bone grafting, leading them to secure the first bone bank in California in 1948, thanks to a gift from the Delta Theta Tau sorority. Medical schools such as UCLA and USC once borrowed bone samples from the clinic. The clinic’s bone bank – the first of its kind west of the Mississippi – was housed in a deep freezer filled with sterile bone pieces sealed in jars, ready to be used in grafts to repair skeletal damage.
The deep freeze was apparently too good. At one point, doctors had to put a lock on the freezer when staffers started storing their personal ice cream there.
When it comes to shaping the modern history of Tichenor Clinic, one of the most significant physicians dedicated to Adelaide’s vision is Dr. Charles Durnin, who served as the clinic’s medical director for more than 30 years and as board president.
A Long Beach native, Durnin first came to Tichenor Clinic in 1972 and followed in the footsteps of his father, William, who was also a doctor and volunteer at Tichenor Clinic.
In 1984, Durnin was named co-director with Dr. Walter Stegeman until 1995 and then became sole director from 1996 to 2008. When he took over as medical director, Durnin wanted to bring in doctors who specialized in foot, hand and spine surgery. Dr. Ron Smith, a former president of the American Foot and Ankle Society, lent his expertise on foot and ankle problems for 30 years at the clinic. Dr. Stephen Graham also offered his orthopedic and sports medicine services from 1985 to 2019.
Durnin organized a scoliosis clinic where Tichenor Clinic conducted screenings and taught school nurses how to do them. He carved out time twice a week for high school athletes who didn’t have a physician and could come in and be examined for an injury.
Pediatric orthopedics has doubled the number of children who were seen 20 years ago.
The medical group consists of seven pediatric orthopedists who evaluate and treat children’s bone, joint and muscle problems. They look at spinal deformities, such as scoliosis and kyphosis, as well as pediatric and adolescent sports injuries. They also treat foot and hip development problems, such as clubfoot and hip dysplasia, as well as knock knees, bowlegs, toeing-in, leg length discrepancy and other conditions.
“Historically, we only treated kids from Long Beach, but now the pediatric group is drawing from all over Southern California,” Durnin said.
Dr. Emory Chang, who has been Tichenor Clinic medical director since 2012, is the main orthopedist who directs therapy and sees underserved children for free at the clinic. He is among the few physicians in Southern California certified in the Ponseti Method, a modern technique of correcting congenital clubfoot without invasive surgery. The cutting-edge technique would have been a help for Tichenor Clinic founder Adelaide Tichenor, whose clubfoot condition affected her throughout her life.
Around the clinic, Chang is considered a knowledgeable physician who is patient with the families who visit him and takes time to educate them about their child’s condition. For Chang, Tichenor Clinic represents the best part of practicing medicine.
“I feel like this is kind of a throwback to the best parts of why most of us became doctors to start with,” he said, “the original reason why we went to medical school – to help people.”
Water therapy and treating the whole child
As one of the longest-running programs at Tichenor Clinic, the Rich Kempster Swim Program has helped hundreds of children for nearly a century, providing water therapy six days a week and fostering a community of local swimmers. It is also the clinic’s most popular program, drawing as many as 300 children a week during the summer months.
While water therapy has been around for thousands of years – the ancient Greeks and Romans touted its healing powers – the concept didn’t gain much traction until the 1900s when Dr. Charles Leroy Lowman used aquatic therapy to help cerebral palsy patients. The practice rose to popularity in the 1920s as a way to rehabilitate polio patients, including President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When Tichenor Clinic opened in the basement of Community Hospital in 1926 and then in its own facility designed by architect W. Horace Austin in 1938, officials insisted on two therapy pools. Therapists found that a pool’s warm waters could help relax spastic muscles, and that the water’s buoyancy and viscosity could ease and strengthen the impact on injured muscles and joints.
In Austin’s vision for an Art Moderne-style facility, the new $45,000 clinic, 1660 Termino Ave., would feature two pools and a mechanical lift to lower children in and out of the water.
“You had tubs that you soaked in and stuff, but to have a pool that you could do therapy in was something else,” said Nancy Mahan Hegelheimer, Tichenor Clinic’s executive director from 1971 to 1994.
The pool is named after the clinic’s legendary Executive Director Gladdes Neff, an early adopter of pool therapy and an expert in the field of physical therapy. Neff was chairwoman of two National Conferences of the American Physical Therapy Association and president of its Southern California chapter.
After working at Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital, Neff was hired at Tichenor Clinic as a physical therapist in 1932. When she became the clinic’s executive director six years later, she pushed for pool therapy as one of her first initiatives, a move that gained national recognition.
Other programs at Tichenor Clinic incorporate the pool into their therapy strategies.
An occupational therapist, for example, uses the pool to teach children proper hygiene, such as learning how to wash their hair. A speech-language pathologist uses a pool as a way to engage children in her sessions.
“We’re working on language through really fun interaction,” said one speech-language pathologist. “This is a playful environment. It doesn’t feel like a clinic. We’re having fun together.”
Adelaide Tichenor’s dream continues with programs ranging from orthopedic care to speech-language therapy and parent support, programs that treat children as a whole — the way the founder had always intended.
Jan. 3: How Tichenor’s Parent Support Group helps families and what is in the future for Tichenor Clinic? And what would Adelaide Tichenor say about the future of her dream, which became an iconic institution in Long Beach?
Getting a copy
“Adelaide’s Legacy: Tichenor Orthopedic Clinic for Children” will be available for a donation to the clinic.
If you are interested, contact Executive Director Kathryn Miles, 562-597-3696 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Development Director Stelet Kim, 562-597-3696 or email@example.com. Donations may also be made at tichenorclinic.org/donate with a note in the comment box indicating your interest in the book.