Google doodle on Saturday celebrated the 122nd birthday of Jewish, German-born British neurologist Professor Sir Ludwig “Poppa” Guttmann, founder of the Paralympic movement. The doodle has been illustrated by Baltimore-based guest artist Ashanti Fortson.
Born in Tost, Germany (now Toszek, Poland) on this day in 1899, Guttmann went on to receive his M.D. in 1924. He subsequently began research on spinal cord injuries and performed several neurosurgical procedures, rising to prominence as one of Germany’s top neurosurgeons by his early thirties.
However, with the rise of the Nazi party and the passing of the Nuremberg Laws in 1933, Guttmann was prevented from practising medicine professionally. Following Kristallnacht in 1938 and the increasing persecution of Jews in Germany, Guttmann was forced to leave Germany with his family and was able to escape to England in 1939.
In England, Guttmann advanced his research in paraplegia. In 1944, he put his innovative approach into practice as the director of the National Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. In 1948, he organized a 16-person archery contest, one of the first official competitive sporting events for wheelchair users. Later called the “Stoke Mandeville Games” or the “Olympics for the Disabled,” the competition demonstrated the power of elite sport to break down barriers for disability and garnered the attention of global medical and sporting communities.
In 1960, Guttmann facilitated the International Stoke Mandeville Games, following the 1960 Summer Olympics, the first of many Paralympic Games. His passion for patient care never faltered—he also founded the International Medical Society of Paraplegia (the International Spinal Cord Society) and the British Sports Association for the Disabled (Activity Alliance) in 1961. He received numerous accolades for his contributions, the highest among which was being knighted by Her Majesty the Queen in 1966.
Today, Paralympic athletes are rightfully recognised for their skills and achievements. The Paralympic Games continue to be a driving force for promoting the rights and independence of people with disabilities, with a lasting impact on equal treatment and opportunity.