Champion Patient

Postcard of St. Luke's Hospital, Kansas City, MO

Lawrence Marquardt was born in Nevada, Missouri, in 1930. When very young he suffered from arthritis. Treatments in Nevada did not produce any positive results, and he entered St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City in February of 1942.

In July of 1943, he had stayed at St. Luke's for nearly a year and a half, and had turned 13.

On May 27 of that year, Wallace Goffe, president of the board of governors for the Kansas City Art Institute, presided over commencement exercises in the school's Epperson Hall. This was in the middle of World War II, and the number of students at the Institute had dropped considerably because of the war.

The 1943 commencement resulted in an historic landmark for KCAI. Katrina Baldwin became the recipient of the first master of arts degree ever awarded by the Institute. With the drop of student population, Goffe handed out only six B.A. degrees, five of them to women.

Eleanor Powlesson received one of these. She went on to teach at the Institute and become a highly regarded, award winning professor at KU.

On July 18, the Kansas City Star published an article about Lawrence. During the 18 months since entering St. Luke's, Lawrence's arthritis had progressed. He could no longer sit up. He now lay "flat on his back in his bed in the children's ward." He did not let this stop his life, though. He became a special type of sculptor. At that time, some soap companies sponsored contests in which people would carve sculptures from bars of soap. By this time he had won two contests, earning enough money from sculpting to purchase three $25 war bonds. He also worked in clay, using that medium to sculpt a farm and an Indian village. Twice a week Eleanor Powlesson met with Lawrence and gave him a lesson in sculpting.

During his year and a half in St. Luke's, Lawrence's mother had visited as often as possible. But, with wartime gasoline rationing, this occurred less often than she and her son would have wished.

Lawrence developed a special relationship with the St. Luke's staff. He had a happy disposition, and deeply appreciated their efforts to treat his arthritis, establishing friendships and earning the staff's respect.

In February of 1948, the Star marked Lawrence's six years in the hospital with another article, in which he was referred to as the "ideal patient," the "champion patient," and the "perfect patient." Eighteen months before the article appeared, Lawrence had lost the use of his hands—he could no longer feed himself, and he couldn't draw or sculpt. To read he used a machine that projected pages onto the ceiling. He changed to the next page by pressing a switch with his chin. His weight had also dropped below 100 pounds.

The Missouri Society for Crippled Children helped support Lawrence, contributing to pay for his upkeep and treatment. Doctors operated on him, and he went through physiotherapy and gold treatments, none of which had lasting benefits. He dealt with various illnesses, like ear infections, chicken pox, and measles, and staff turned him in his bed three times a day to fight bedsores and infections. He shared his ward with three other patients, who found him good company.

People said he never complained. Margaret Crolley, supervisor of nurses for his ward said, "It's like being rich. I have been at St. Luke's eighteen years and have never seen a patient so deserving. He's just as sweet and sturdy in spirit as the day he came in."

A student nurse said, "He's not a goody-goody boy. He has a sense of humor, and likes a bit of mischief. And you never saw anyone who said thank you so often, and meant it every time." The sixth anniversary article said, in a sense, St. Luke's had adopted him, that on Christmas and his birthday you would find his bed piled with gifts.

That year Lawrence expressed a wish he thought had no chance of coming true. In November, around Thanksgiving, it did.

Some readers may be old enough to remember The Breakfast Club—not the current radio program, nor the 1985 movie with Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, and many others.

No, this Breakfast Club, hosted by Don McNeill, and featuring such performers as comic/singer Fran Allison (who later gained more fame as the Fran of Kukla, Fran and Ollie) as "Aunt Fanny," Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers, and others, started in June 1933, when Lawrence was not quite three and a half. It ran for 35 and a half years, as a radio, as well as stretches as a television show, ending two days after Christmas in 1968.

When Lawrence, now 18, heard McNeill was bringing The Breakfast Club to Municipal Auditorium to raise money for Children's Mercy Hospital, he wistfully told a nurse's aide, "I suppose it would be asking too much for such a busy man to come and see me, too."

The aide told hospital officials, who sent a letter to McNeill. The day before the performance, the St. Luke's officials got word that, in addition to Children's Mercy, the cast would also visit St. Luke's. Lawrence had already heard McNeill say the same thing on that morning's broadcast. He got to meet the Breakfast Club cast the next day.

In December, young Mr. Marquardt, now 19, was featured in two articles shortly before Christmas, the first on December 18, when Lawrence was one of three orthopedic patients taken as special guests to the fourth annual Christmas party hosted by Dr. G. Ferrel Webb and his wife at their farm, a few miles south of Bonner Springs. Fifty boys from the Franklin School joined them, along with thirteen other young patients, brought by the orthopedic ward supervisor.

Five days later, two days before Christmas, the Kansas City Star printed an article titled "Merry Despite Pain." The subtitle read "Eight Years in a Bed No Bar to Courage." In this piece, we find Lawrence's weight had dropped to under forty pounds. One paragraph reads:

Except for his head and one arm, Lawrence can't move a body atrophied or pained by arthritis. He can't eat, or turn over in bed, by himself. He hasn't walked for many years. All the treatments for rheumatoid arthritis have been used futilely on this patient—medicines, surgery, physiotherapy—but the joints are now "frozen."

Miss Crolley is quoted again. "I've never seen anyone like him. Always a whisper of thanks for every meal, for every bit of care. Always a smile, never a whine. It makes you wonder at the strength of a good spirit."

Again, the entire staff seemed deeply attached to Lawrence. As Alma Layne, a nurse's aide, said, "I know he has a lot to teach us."

Lawrence Marquardt died on March 29, 1952, 22 years old, having lived in the hospital for ten years. He was survived by his mother. And by the hospital staff who had been his family for a decade.

About the Author

John Arthur Horner of the Missouri Valley Room has a Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from UC-Santa Barbara, as well as a deep love of history. He is an award-winning playwright and member of the Dramatists Guild of America. He lives in Independence with his wife, two pianos, and their multitude of books.

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