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Otto Anderson Engh, M.D. (1904-1988)

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Dr. Otto Engh was a distinguished orthopaedic surgeon and a leader in the field of orthopaedics. He is particularly remembered in his community for his early work with children who were crippled by poliomyelitis, his founding of the National Hospital for Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, and the founding of the Anderson Clinic.

Otto Engh was a native of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. One of six sons of immigrants – his father, a foreman in a steel mill, had come from Sweden, and his mother, from Norway – he and his brothers were given the middle name of Anderson, which had been their father’s name before he emigrated and changed it to Engh.

After receiving an undergraduate degree in science from Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, Otto Engh worked as a high-school science teacher and athletic coach in Johnstown. In 1935, he married Sara, who was also a teacher. He was a talented musician; he almost became a professional performer, but his wife encouraged him to pursue his medical career.

Dr. Engh received his medical degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During his second year of residency at the Pennsylvania Crippled Children’s Hospital in Elizabethtown, he decided that working with crippled children was to be his specialty.

In the fall of 1936, Dr. Engh moved to the Washington, D.C., area and began his practice, which was to continue until his retirement in 1976. He started as assistant to another physician.  He saw a glaring need in the area for the care of crippled children. The capitol region had no facilities that specialized in orthopaedic deformities, which were far more common in the past than they are today. Poliomyelitis was a major problem, club foot, dislocated hips, osteomyelitis, and curvature of the spine also contributed to the need for reconstructive surgeons and long-term hospital care.

Dr. Engh opened his own practice in 1938, near his home in Alexandria, Virginia after his desire grew to own a clinic or hospital. He bought land in Arlington and established offices, which he called the Anderson Clinic. He also established a crippled children’s program through the Arlington Health Department. Previously, such children, especially in rural areas, were being seen only once or twice a year, and few operations were being done. At Dr. Engh’s center, the patients were seen weekly and received therapy. In addition, he instituted community-based clinics for handicapped children at Gallinger Hospital (D.C. General Hospital) in Washington and at Arlington Hospital in Arlington, Virginia.

Dr. Engh traveled throughout the metropolitan Washington area to see patients at a half-dozen hospitals, frequently taking his wife and three children with him on weekends.

In the 1940’s, Dr. Engh converted the physical-therapy floor of the Anderson Clinic into an eighteen-bed hospital, complete with iron lungs, to treat victims of poliomyelitis, because of the desperate need for beds for such patients. The construction of an entire hospital for orthopaedic surgery followed a few years later. The original hospital was totally a volunteer effort, backed by the Arlington Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Virginia Builders and Plumbers Association, and other organizations; it was built with donated materials and labor, on land donated by Dr. and Mrs. Engh. In the 1950’s, the hospital’s name was changed to the National Hospital for Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, new wings were added, and services were expanded. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the hospital was designated by the federal government to serve as a pilot demonstration project on rehabilitation. The hospital has since closed.

Dr. Engh served as President of the Virginia Orthopedic Society District of Columbia Orthopedic Society, and the Alexandria Medical Society. He was Chief of Staff at Alexandria Hospital as well as at National Hospital for Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation.

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