Irene Fisher Coon's vision lives in the inspiration she was to others and the legacy she created at Children's Care Hospital and School (formerly known as Crippled Children's Hospital & School).
Irene was a young head nurse in one of South Dakota's orthopedic wards in the 1930's. She was ahead of her time in treating the whole child, not just the physical symptoms. During the polio epidemic of 1948, children were staying in the hospital for long periods of time for rehabilitation, but had no access to education. When her young patients asked her why they couldn't go to school, Irene didn't repeat the excuses the children had heard all their lives – she did something about it. "We were rehabilitating their bodies, but we were doing nothing with their smart little minds," she said. Even though many of the children had never been to school before, she convinced Sioux Falls College to send over a practicing teacher and started a school in an empty elevator shaft.
Several years later Irene and Dr. Guy Van Demark realized the need for a separate hospital and school dedicated to meeting the special needs of children with polio and other disabilities. Irene was instrumental in the formation of Children's Care Hospital & School. Irene did more than raise money to start “Crippled Children's Hospital & School,” which opened in 1952. She worked at Children's Care for years, held in the utmost respect by the children and staff.
Irene was dedicated to creating a “home away from home” for her children. In her spare time she would sew stylish clothes for her young patients letting them choose the color of fabric. She converted the hospital rooftop into a garden of potted plants so the children could enjoy the outdoors.
After serving children with special needs and their families for 40 years Irene retired from being a nurse but her legacy lives in the dream she helped make a reality in what is now Children's Care Hospital & School. She provided for the children during her time as director of nursing at Crippled Children's and she also provided for generations of children to come by naming Children's Care Hospital and School in her estate plans.
She demanded much from the children, from her staff, and most of all from herself. She taught the children that they had a lot to give the world, and the children responded. By believing in children's abilities instead of dwelling on their disabilities, Irene Fisher Coon helped create a climate in South Dakota in which children could succeed, regardless of their limitations.
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