Interviewee: Rae Louise Leto
Interviewer: Annette Wetteland
Date of Interview: 10/30/07
Location of Interview: Greenfield, IA
Run Time: Approximately 60M
Biographical Data Form
Oral History Release
Original Newsclippings: 1) “Her Mission is Completed,” re: Sister Elizabeth Kenny; 2) Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Blank at a children’s holiday party;
“Edward Bickford,” Thursday, December 11, 1947.
Nelson, Roxanne. “On Borrowed Time: The Last Iron Lung Users Face a Future Without Repair Service,” AARP Bulletin, September 2004.
Rae Louise Leto’s parents worked hard. Her mother was employed at Rollins Hosiery Mill and her father was a carpenter. They were poor, but Rae did not know it. Some of her happiest childhood memories came from picking apples and black raspberries in long-sleeved flannel shirts and sombrero hats in her grandparent’s orchard. “We got ten cents a quart and we thought we were really rich,” she remembered.
Rae was 13 years old when she caught polio. “When I first got sick,” said Rae, “of course, they just thought that I had the flu. But, when our family doctor saw me he immediately put me in an ambulance and sent me to Dr. James Dyson at Blank. There was a Ralph Dyson and a James Dyson. James is the one I saw. They immediately put me in isolation. I don’t really remember going to Blank – I was in enough of a coma at the time that I don’t remember."
Rae did not have to go into an iron lung, but they did put an oxygen tent over her bed. She remembers hearing her mom and dad whispering at the foot of the bed with Dr. Dyson. She was in a coma, but she heard him say, “If she lives through the night, it will be a miracle.”
Rae graduated from East High in Des Moines in January 1956. Upon graduation, she attended Mercy’s Nurse Training Program where she graduated in 1959. After working at Mercy for about 8 months, Rae found a job in a private doctor’s office. Throughout her nursing career, she was always careful not to talk around comatose patients. “You think they don’t hear you, but they do. I remember.”