Barlow Respiratory Hospital Seeks Patients Spanning the Century for Reunion

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Barlow Respiratory Hospital welcomed former patients back to the hospital for a former patient reunion on Saturday, May 21, 2005. A former tuberculosis hospital, Barlow reconnected with former patients who received care at the hospital throughout its long history serving the community and already has several former patients slated to attend, spanning the century.

Today, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to literally live at a hospital recuperating from an illness - for years. But for many people around Southern California, this was the case. Their home was Barlow Respiratory Hospital, still in operation and nestled in a park-like setting between Elysian Park and Dodger Stadium.

This is a little known piece of history because, for many patients, their tuberculosis diagnosis carried a stigma. Now with an effective cure for this once dreaded disease, Barlow Respiratory Hospital ( welcomed former patients spanning the century back to the hospital for a former patient reunion on May 21. Barlow reconnected with former patients who received care at the hospital throughout its long history serving the community.

For the first 60 years of its operation, the hospital treated tuberculosis patients with fresh air, rest, and sunshine. But with the development of an effective treatment for tuberculosis, the sanatorium was no longer needed. The not-for-profit hospital then shifted its focus towards the long-term acute care needs of current respiratory and other related diseases, including serving as one of the premier institutions nationwide for weaning patients from ventilators.

By comparison, Glassel Park resident Max Krieger’s six months at Barlow in 1956 was brief, but his memories of the hospital are vivid. After surviving the concentration camp of Nazi Germany and then managing to escape across the border into West Germany, he emigrated to the United States and looked forward to beginning a happier chapter in his life. Soon he was married, and shortly thereafter he became a father.

But hardship struck again. Holding down two jobs to support his growing family, he became run down, providing an opportunity for the tuberculosis to become active. His doctor felt he would get the best care at Barlow.

“I feel the hospital was just great for me,” says the 71-year-old. “I did a lot of reading and there was a nurse who wanted to get me into knitting.”

Locating former patients from Barlow’s distant past for the reunion was not been easy because of the historical stigma surrounding tuberculosis. A killer disease, tuberculosis spread through the air, so an outbreak would often spark fear, and, in turn, promote secrecy and shame as families tried to hide the fact that one of their loved ones had the disease.

But in recent years many former patients have stopped by the hospital with warm memories of the time they spent at Barlow. One of the inspirations for the event was the recent visit to the Barlow main campus by former patient Helen Lawrence. The Los Angeles resident, now age 97, was a tuberculosis patient from 1928 to 1933 and met her husband while they were both rehabilitating.

“Going to Barlow was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me,” recalls Lawrence of those five years at Barlow secluded from society, during which she discovered her love for reading, made lifelong friends and met and fell in love with her husband.

“Once patients left, it was as if they had never been to Barlow,” Helen Lawrence noted. “But I made a promise to myself never to forget Barlow.”

Since the call for former patients went out earlier this year, Barlow has already had the opportunity to renew some old friendships.

“It is very inspiring to hear from and become reacquainted with the many people whose lives were touched by Barlow,” says Barlow Chief Executive Officer Margaret Crane. “Reconnecting with our past helps to remind us of our long tradition of helping our community breathe easier.”

Lucy Kapic recovered at Barlow for six years in the 1940s. When she was admitted to Barlow in 1945, she never dreamed she would spend the next six years of her life in the sanatorium – three of those years in the infirmary on complete bed rest.

“I had to learn to walk again,” recalls the now 84-year-old Alhambra resident.

In time, Kapic became known as something of a fixture around the hospital. Her long illness took a toll on her marriage, but “I never gave up,” she says. “It was a tough time. I think it was my faith really. I did a lot of praying.”

Although few in the U.S. ever consider the potential threat of tuberculosis, an estimated 3 million people die annually from the disease. According to the World Health Organization, the registered number of new cases of TB worldwide roughly correlates with economic conditions: the highest incidences are seen in those countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America with the lowest gross national products.

n Los Angeles, there were nearly 1,000 new cases of TB reported in 2004. Los Angeles has the highest incidence of TB in the state, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Tuberculosis Control Division.

Barlow Respiratory Hospital’s modern day focus serves the critically ill population, helping patients recover from medical complications and enjoy a greater quality of life.

If you know of a former patient that stayed at Barlow at any time during its more than 100 years serving the Southern California community, please let us know so we can invite them to a future reunion. Contact Rachael Payne via e-mail at or call 323.908.1406.

The only one of its kind on the West Coast, Barlow Respiratory Hospital is known in the medical community for successfully weaning ventilator-dependent patients when the general health system can do no more. Celebrating more than 100 years of service in Southern California, the specialty respiratory hospital works in concert with nearly 100 regional hospitals to provide care for the critically ill.


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Jennifer Zabriskie
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