Burton-Bradley, Claudia Portia

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MB BS 1943

Claudia Portia Burton-Bradley, the pioneer of cerebral palsy research in Australia, was the first Medical Director of The Spastic Centre in NSW in 1945, and was a co-founder of the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association in 1954.

Claudia was born in Richmond, NSW in 1909. At age 11 she was diagnosed with diabetes and became one of the first diabetics to receive insulin. As a child she spent a year under treatment in the Coast Hospital[1]. This early experience of hospital institutions is said to have influenced her ideas on illness and medical care and, according to her recollections in The Spastic Centre Story[1], from this early age, her desire to study Medicine. When she later did so, she supported herself through her university studies, being apprenticed to a pharmacist until 1930, and from 1933 to 1938 serving as the Pharmacist at Western Suburbs Hospital. She received both a BA and her MB BS by 1943.

By 1944 Claudia had become a Senior Resident Medical Officer at Royal North Shore Hospital, later holding the same position at the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children. During this period, she began conducting clinics for disabled children with the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children. It was here that she met Audrie and Neil McLeod, the two founders of the Spastic Centre of New South Wales. She was eager to work with them and was appointed the first Medical Director of the Centre in 1945, a position she remained in until 1962. Concurrently, she became an Honorary Clinical Assistant in Physiotherapy at the Royal North Shore Hospital in 1946, taking up an additional role as Honorary Assistant Orthopaedic Surgeon to the Rachel Forster Hospital in 1947. Her role at The Spastic Centre expanded for her to become their Honorary Orthopaedic Surgeon as well. Quoting from the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

Pioneering cerebral palsy research in Australia, she wrote three major articles based on her observation of children at The Spastic Centre: ‘Infantile Cerebral Palsy’ and ‘The Spastic Child’ and ‘Clinical Features of Children Suffering from Neurological Sequelae of Rh Iso-Sensitization’. She kept in touch with international specialists and in 1951 spent three months in the United States of America where she worked with W M Phelps at Baltimore… Her treatment included surgery and bracing, as well as a team approach to habitation that involved physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists, Burton-Bradley’s medical reports for the Spastic Centre stressed the potential of cerebral-palsy sufferers to lead useful and independent lives, and she encouraged bright children to go on to university. She began one paper, delivered to the State branch of the British Medical Association in 1956, with a plea for the ‘maintenance of dignity in relation to these children as fellow beings’.[1]

In addition to her clinical work, Claudia was active in the Australian Orthopaedic and Australian Paediatric associations, Honorary Fellow of the Australian College of Speech Therapists, and Consultant to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. In 1954, with the co-founder of The Spastic Centre, she formed the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association (ACPA)[1]. Claudia became Chair of the ACPA Medical and Education Committee and supported the development of medical departments in a number of the ACPA member organisations. Later, she became an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Chair of its Program Committee.

According to her biography, as a sufferer of diabetes, her own poor health was partly the stimulus for her determination and enthusiasm for her work: She was acutely aware that her own life had been extended by the “timely discovery of insulin”, for which she was immensely grateful and felt compelled to give back in terms of medical service to others; she “also feared that her life would be short which made her energetically committed to her work”.[1]

In 1966, she was appointed MBE in recognition of her life-long efforts towards the advancement in our knowledge and treatment of cerebral palsy. She was considered the world leader in her field.

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Burton-Bradley, Claudia Portia. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.