The westbound stagecoach upset near Gold, Colorado, in October 1866, tossing its passengers violently to the ground. With no opportunity for rest or medical treatment, the travelers reboarded the righted stage to continue their journey toward San Francisco.
The stage reached Salt Lake City without further trouble. Although in great pain from a badly bruised side and torn ligaments in his leg, one visitor could not resist the chance to call on Brigham Young. Ben Holladay of the Overland Mail Company introduced his battered guest to the Mormon leader: Dr. Louis Albert Sayre of Bellevue Hospital, New York City, charter member of the American Medical Association, pioneer in treatment of spine and hip injuries, and the nationâ€™s (perhaps the worldâ€™s) foremost orthopaedic surgeon.
The men chatted amiably. Dr. Sayre questioned ex-Gov. Young about â€œthe habits, manners, and customs of your people,â€ while Young queried Sayre about his innovative surgical practice. Despite his present-day reputation as antagonistic to medicine, Young was impressed by Sayreâ€™s achievements â€“ and with good reason.
Sayre had served as a doctor during the Civil War. In a setting where battle-injured limbs were routinely amputated, Sayre had insisted on treating and saving many arms and legs. He had performed the worldâ€™s second successful removal of a diseased hip joint, saving the life of his patient. He held the first chair of orthopaedic surgery in the United States, and in later years would go on to combat cholera in crowded eastern cities, and pioneer the use of plaster of paris to cast broken limbs and treat deformities of the spine. (See here for another enduring Sayre legacy, the one which prompted this post.)
Noting that a child calling at the office was cross-eyed, Dr. Sayre offered to treat her; a successful operation was immediately performed. The little girl â€œbore it bravely,â€ noted a reporter who witnessed the operation, so bravely that the reporter himself submitted to minor throat surgery and was astonished at the â€œease, neatness and quicknessâ€ of the doctorâ€™s movements.
Young asked Sayre if he would examine others. Sayre agreed to prolong his stay, and Young immediately sent for a family whose daughter had been born with two club feet. Sayre performed two surgeries, and â€œrestored the feet to their natural position. The babe is doing well and the joy of the parents knows no bounds.â€
An unknown number of others with deformed limbs, severe squints, and other problems were treated with equal success during Sayreâ€™s five days in Salt Lake City. All services were given by Dr. Sayre without charge, â€œwith no other reward than the consciousness of having done a deed worthy of his name.â€
Ever the gentleman, Dr. Sayreâ€™s farewell note to Brigham Young reads as though the doctor himself were the real beneficiary of his stay among the Mormons: he thanked Young for his kindness and the hospitality shown to him, and asked that Young share Sayreâ€™s thanks with others who had shown courtesies. He was, he wrote, â€œextremely delightedâ€ by all he had seen and learned.
Further, Sayre invited the Mormon leader to send a medical student to train in New York City. So impressed had he been by the practical evidence of Sayreâ€™s surgical skills, Brigham Young sent Heber John Richards to New York the following year. Young paid Richardsâ€™ tuition and living expenses during his years of medical school. In memory of his visit to Salt Lake City, Sayre offered the young doctor priceless tutelage in his own practice, free of charge.
Whether it be the charitable services of the Primary Childrenâ€™s hospital, the educational and charitable efforts of our health services missionaries and Relief Society, or the annual pilgrimages of LDS doctors and dentists to needy former mission areas, Mormons have a quiet record of contributions to human health and happiness. That charitable tradition is a long one â€“ but in 1866, we were on the receiving end of unselfish medical service.