Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project. It reflects the research resources that were available 13 years ago.
Fourteen-year-old Patsy Pfeifer has two ambitions in life. One is to see a rodeo. Like many teenage girls, she is crazy about horses. When she’s not reading about them in stories by Will James, the straight-A student paints pictures of them.
Her other ambition is to walk. Patsy has been bedridden since she got polio around Christmas 1942. One day, after she had been in the hospital for a few months, she was surprised to see actress Shirley Temple at her bedside, giving her an award for her essay on “What Florence Nightingale’s Life Means to Children.”
By 1947, having undergone seven operations, Patsy was at home, 316 N. Bonnie Brae St., where the walls of her bedroom were lined with books. A teacher from the Infantile Paralysis Foundation paid four visits to give her art lessons. After that, she hitched herself up on one elbow in bed to paint watercolors of whatever she could see from the window: flowers, the sky and clothes drying on the neighbors’ lines. Or whatever she could imagine, like horses.
Sheriff’s Capt. A.D. Guasti read The Times story about Patsy’s wish to see a rodeo and Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz invited her to the one being sponsored at the Coliseum by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Relief Association.
In September 1947, Patsy, her mother, Margaret, and brother Jackie visited Childrens Hospital to donate one of Patsy’s watercolors to Mrs. Richard M. White, executive secretary of the Los Angeles Chamber of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
There’s no telling what became of Patsy after that or whether she ever walked again. Her name never reappears in The Times, but neither does it appear in the California Death Index. To those who would maintain that the past was a simpler, less complicated time, I can only say: Not when it comes to medicine.