For over 30 years British asthmatic children were sent for three weeks to the French Spa town of La Bourboule in the Massif Centrale. When the work started in 1949 it was extremely difficult to treat asthma effectively and it was perfectly reasonable to include the regime of spa treatment as a legitimate form of treatment. The launch of the drug sodium cromoglycate in the 60s made a huge difference to the health of asthmatic children (something that is largely forgotten by modern doctors). A few years later the production of steroid inhalers provided a highly effective method of control thus completely altering the prognosis of the disease, although it has to be said that even today it can still be very serious and hospital admissions can be required. Miss Jennifer Lee who had joined the staff of IHC at the very beginning and remained for the next twelve years until her departure to take up a University course, she was in charge of the children in France while they were undergoing the treatment. From the arrival of the first party the standard of services provided by the Spa Authorities, the French doctors especially Dr. Jean Canet, and at the Children's Home run by Madame Brunereau was truly remarkable and created an atmosphere conducive to the well being of the children. The results-often very long term-were astonishing and only after nearly 40 years did the scheme come to an end, chiefly because the level of success of treatment in the U.K. reduced the necessity to go abroad.
Recently we heard from Nigel Spring who visited La Bourboule. His visit coincided with the making of a film about the treatment there which is one of 6 films made by Esmond Wilson from the Royal Society of Medicine for IHC (which we still have copies of). He was delighted to find that he appears in the film and this is his account below.
minutes ago I went to the fridge feeling peckish. It was virtually empty apart
from some dark bitter chocolate and the remains of crusty loaf. The combination of chocolate and bread
reminded me of my visit to La Bourboule 55 years ago. Every
day for three weeks we would have a piece
of chocolate and a slice of French baguette for tea roundabout 4 PM after
returning from an afternoon session taking the waters, bathing in steam. All the memories came flooding back which I
haven't visited for decades; the house
where we stayed with timber floorboards - I think the boys and girls were
separated in different buildings; the jolly French house wardens; the walk in
the mornings to the “ Establishment” alongside the fast flowing and noisy river
flowing over the boulders which forms the central spine around which the
buildings of La Bouboule are gathered.
For each my three trips between 1959 to 1962 about 25 children and their parents met up at the London coach terminus whereupon we said goodbye (and always seen off by John Barclay and Margaret McEwen) and travelled down to Lympe airport (just a field really and a hut) and boarded a Skyways plane(an old World War II Dekota) to Lyon where we went by another coach to La Bouboule. We were escorted and looked after during our stay by two or three volunteers, usually female. In my third year, there was one such lovely gorgeous 21-year-old called Pat Rudkin and my friend William (met on the previous trip) and I thought she was hot (from 12-year-old perspective). We all got on so well that she invited William and I to her wedding a few months later. My first taste of champagne and my first dizzy spell! My bread and chocolate today has reconnected to memories of that period which because of a busy lifestyle have been masked and almost forgotten. Did the spa treatment help relieve my asthma? I can't be sure but it do a lot of other good particularly helping with the grieving of my dad who passed away suddenly a few months earlier before my first trip. Thank you Margaret. Thank you John. Thank you International Help for Children. I'm also very grateful to a lady who I think was called Mrs Melvin that I met and had tea with in a very posh Belgravia apartment in London. She had sponsored my trip, at least the first one. You should all know that I have had a wonderful life (and still am) and I'm sure the help received provided some contribution.
I wrote the article below in 1967.
Recently I spent several days in La Bourboule studying the treatment of the 12 children who constituted this years May party. As I was the first British doctor for 7 years to visit the Spa through I.H.C. I was given a warm welcome by several of the French doctors and also by numerous other people who help to look after our parties. The reason of my journey was two-fold: firstly to pave the way for future visits of Local Committee doctors; secondly to reassess the value of the treatment in terms of the ever rising cost of a three weeks stay which, even with reduced medical fees, can now be as much as eighty five pounds. Several statistical follow-ups have been done on I.H.C, children during the past ten years and they have all shown that considerable improvement in both asthma and eczema can result. This benefit is particularly marked amongst the under tens in whom it is of very special value because there is no doubt that many asthmatic children do tend to improve anyway as they reach adult life. (In 1964, as part of my medical studies, I had done a survey on 120 children who had been to La Bourboule and found that by the age of 18, 80% of children had made a substantial improvement or had complete alleviation of their condition.) There are of course other methods of treating asthma and, for the Frenchman, La Bourboule is merely one of them. In England many of the treatments are free, thus it is more difficult to justify the expenditure of this money. However, as a result of my visit, and the follow up work which I have done, I feel very strongly that nothing else offers such a chance of getting better in so short a time. It is the fact that the cure takes only three weeks (admittedly more than one visit to the Spa may be necessary in severe cases) which distinguishes it from other forms of long tern therapy. It is difficult to know if the mineral waters themselves, by virtue of their chemical constituents, can improve asthma, but the way in which they are taken, mostly various forms of inhalation, - require the child to be constantly breathing; in and out against a stream of vapourised water. Everyone is agreed about the effectiveness of breathing, exercises in helping asthmatics, and the methods used at La Bourboule provide an excellent way of providing this treatment. .
Return to Previous Page