Search for TB cure tied to history of Colorado Springs

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — In 1929, Roy Mosher began chronicling his death in a Colorado Springs tuberculosis sanatorium. Like thousands of patients before him, Mosher had come to Colorado Springs hoping that the dry mountain air and sunshine would "cure" him of the disease.

He succumbed less than a year later, a progression that can be morbidly traced through his medical diary.

Every day from June 15, 1929, until April 28, 1930, Mosher made entries about his health. Multiple times a day, he recorded his temperature, his heart rate and even the color of the phlegm or sputum that he coughed up. Mosher died shortly after he left the sanatorium, and all other records of him have faded from history.

Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, likes to call Mosher's book the "sputum diary."

The diary could have a new place in the Pioneers Museum as the facility prepares to undertake one of the most complex reworkings of its longtime exhibit "City of Sunshine: Health in Pikes Peak Region." For the first time since the 1980s, the museum is shutting down its tuberculosis exhibit and will spend a year raising $75,000 and redesigning the space and artifacts on display. Mayberry calls it the "most ambitious" exhibit reworking the museum has ever done.

It could also give Mayberry a chance to put on display Mosher's diary, merely one of the remnants of Colorado Springs' unique history as a mecca for tuberculars.

Since its founding, the Pikes Peak region had been a health destination, as early visitors came to Manitou Springs seeking its healing waters.

But in the 1890s, health care arrived in Colorado Springs in the form of several tuberculosis sanatoriums that, until a vaccine was created during World War II, lured tens of thousands of patients to the West seeking a cure.

Society called them "chasers" - people who, Mayberry said, were chasing respite from TB.

"They were seeking good health," Mayberry said. "They were told to go find their health."

While Colorado Springs' sanatoriums usually boasted a 60 percent cure rate, the strict health care regimens imposed on patients merely made their illnesses latent.

It wasn't until after the war that an actual cure was discovered, just as the sanatoriums began to dismantle and the city started to court the military as a replacement industry.

Nonetheless, Colorado Springs grew up with the sanatoriums.

"I always say that you cannot understand the history of the Pikes Peak region without understanding our connection to health care," Mayberry said.

"We are here because of health care, and people think of that in terms of tuberculosis."

To Mayberry, the disease left an indelible mark on Colorado Springs' layout and architecture.

In the Old North End, homes were constructed with large sleeping porches to accommodate tubercular residents.

Massive sanatoriums dictated the layout of the city as it continued to grow. A few vestiges of the era linger outside of the Pioneers Museum's walls: Some "TB huts," where tuberculosis patients lived, are sprinkled throughout town, and Woodmen Road is named for an old sanatorium.

Mayberry hopes the redone exhibit will draw attention to TB's past as well as its present, with around ?1 billion TB diagnoses around the world every year, he said.

In 2013, there were 74 reported cases of tuberculosis in Colorado, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records. Eight of those cases were in Colorado Springs.

"We tend to think that TB is a disease of the past, but it really isn't," Mayberry said.


Information from: The Gazette,

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