Miracle on Coney Island #4 – Conclusion

When I first learned of this biography project, I was very excited to be able to choose a book to study. I knew that I wanted to read about a doctor, and eventually decided on Dr. Couney.

While reading the book my feelings toward Dr. Couney evolved and changed greatly as I learned more about his motivations and role in the medical community. The main takeaway I had from reading Miracle on Coney Island by Claire Prentice was the fact that Couney was more of a businessman than a doctor. He coordinated the incubator nurseries, but his nurses and physicians were the ones caring for the infants.

My personal connection to this book is the fact that I was born 2 1/2 months premature. I was shocked to read that the majority of society in the late 1800s and 1900s didn’t believe “preemies” were worth saving.

This seems to be one of Couney’s motivations for his incubator nurseries. He wanted to show families and doctors that the infants could be saved and go on to lead healthy lives.

One aspect of Couney that startled me was the fact that he was not a licensed doctor. I struggled to reconcile this fact with his intentions toward saving the premature infants. However, as I continued to read and understand that Couney was a businessman and not clinically caring for the infants each day, I began to relax. I had imagined a man with no medical training probing innocent “preemies”, and all my confidence in his pure motivations went out the window.

My conclusions of Couney are still developing as I think about his character, actions, and motivations. I believe he was truly motivated by wanting to save the lives of “preemies”. I believe he used his place in the “show world” to provide free care to parents of premature infants, and allowed for his nurses and physicians to care for the infants.

His “sideshow” allowed for the incubator to become a standard practice of care for the premature infant. After all, if a man at a circus could save thousands of preemies, then doctors could too.


Image Source: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jul/31/once-a-sideshow-former-preemies-praise-doctor-year/


Miracle on Coney Island #3

Imagine you find out that the doctor who has been treating your premature infant isn’t a licensed doctor. When I first read that there is no record of Couney attending medical school in Europe or America, I was appalled. All the confidence that the book had given me about Couney’s genuine motivations was tainted by what seems an almost criminal deception, however, I read on.

Prentice went on to explain that towards the end of Couney’s presence in Coney Island, doctors began sending him premature infants that needed care. These infants were frequently those of parents that could not afford the expensive medical bills of incubator care in a hospital. Couney provided care for zero charge (to the parents), the viewers had to pay a fee. She also presented a few accounts of doctors who referred patients to Couney, surmising that these physicians knew he was an unlicensed doctor.

The team of nurses and other two physicians that Couney employed in his incubator nursery, were the individuals primarily caring for the infants. Although, when one googles the story of the incubator doctor, Martin Couney’s name appears, the unsung heroes were his “assistants”. The individuals with the highest education and training in the care of premature infants were the nurses he employed that had trained in France.

The doctors continued to send Couney infants because he had many incubators, could give care to families without the ability to pay for treatment, and the infants were being cared for by the nurses and other physicians- not Couney. Couney was “running the show”.

The Medical Community seemed to have understood that for Couney’s Infant Nursery to be able to treat with no cost to the parents, he needed a source of income for the institution. He chose the fee for fairground visitors. They knew that he was the man managing the “business” of the nursery, finessing the caveats of having machines and materials to care for infants at no cost to the parents; he was not the man caring for the day-to-day medical needs of the infants. The highly trained nurses and other staff were there to feed and monitor the infants as they grew.

As I read this book, my feelings toward Couney shifted many times. Now, I am still not sure exactly how to feel. Was he pretending to be a doctor, intentionally placing infants in harms way, and was simply lucky in the amount he saved? Was he simply trying to gain more popularity and prestige by adopting “Dr.” and knew his intellectual limitations (therefore allowing the nurses and other physicians to care for the infants)?

One thing I have concluded, is that despite this deception in his training and experience, the fact that his nursery saved thousands of premature infants in a time when many thought them unnecessary drains on medical resources, is highly inspirational.



Image Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3605909/The-bizarre-tale-Boardwalk-babies-thousands-premature-infants-saved-Coney-Island-entertainment-sideshow.html?scrlybrkr=2df6fcef

Miracle on Coney Island #2

When Couney’s nursery became established on Coney Island in New York, doctors began sending him premature infants that they or hospitals weren’t equipped to treat. To me, this shows the beginning of an acceptance of the incubator’s technology by the medical community. Even though the majority of doctors still believed that caring for premature infants was a waste of resources, some were learning that through the use of technology the preemies could be saved.

Dr. Couney was accused by a journalist of running a “baby farm” on Coney Island. The verdict of the court’s investigation was that Couney and his nurses were caring for the infants and taking excellent care of them. This was not true however of the other showmen that began to open incubator exhibits at other fairs. In one instance in St. Louis, a viral infection was spread to and amongst the babies. Half of the infants died as a result. Dr. Couney took great care to make sure the public knew he was not associated with these men, and that he and his nurses had received medical training on caring for the premature infants. Couney wanted it to be very clearly known that he was running a legitimate medical institution.

“‘It is a sober, scientific exhibit, calculated to give valuable hints to mothers of children”’ (Prentice)

In 1905, Couney and his wife Annabelle, a former nurse, formed The Infant Incubator Company. Annabelle became his business manager as she was skilled in managing finances. This allowed for his incubator nursery to become much more streamlined, and he was able to open more nurseries, some even in hospitals.

This seems to be a monumental step in the “legitimization” of Couney’s nursery. When reading his story, it is surprising to learn that his nurseries were, for the most part, located in fairs. When I read that he formed a company for his nurseries, this convinced me that he wanted a legitimate backing for his nurseries that would allow him to increase the number of premature infants he could help.

In 1907, Couney’s own daughter was born 6 weeks premature in their home. He had to work to save the life of his daughter, just like the lives of his other incubator babies. He brought one of the incubators from Coney Island to his home, and his daughter was cared for inside for 3 months.

This deeply emotional event seems like it would have further instilled Couney’s motivation to streamline the process of treating premature infants and save them with his incubators.

As I read Couney’s story, I am intrigued by the environment he chose for his nurseries, but comforted by his pure motivation in caring for the infants which was not driven by monetary or celebrity aspirations.


Image Source: http://seeingthelighterside.com/baby-incubators-coney-island/



Miracle on Coney Island #1

The first time that I heard about the almost comical origins of the incubator, was from my uncle who completed a residency in neonatology. He told me the story of a doctor working at Coney Island, who had a “preemie” exhibit. My interest into this subject relates back to my premature birth. I was born ten weeks premature. I spent two months in an incubator at the hospital after my birth. I selected my book, Miracle on Coney Island, in order to learn more about Dr. Couney’s motivation behind his incubator exhibit, and to learn how the medical community reacted to his work with the incubator. In my reading so far, I have learned how Couney’s incubator exhibit originated in Germany and the path it took to the Unites States. When I read about how Couney’s “nursery” changed each time he opened it in a new fair, I gained insight into his motivation behind creating his incubator exhibits. With each new nursery, Couney attempted to improve the quality of care he could give his infants. One quote from the author, Claire Prentice, that struck me was “Couney was eager to distance himself from the more sensational and freakish elements of Coney Island and stressed that his facility was essentially a miniature hospital, not a sideshow attraction.” Couney’s perspective of his nursery as a “miniature hospital” proves to me that his motivations were based in his wanting to care for the premature infants. As I read about Couney’s nursery I have learned about his impressive care for the infants, and also the high standards he set for himself and all others that worked in the nursery. I am approximately two thirds of the way through my book and have seen a little of the medical community’s response to Couney’s incubator exhibit. When he first opened the nursery in the US (in Omaha, Nebraska), Couney’s incubator nursery was met with much skepticism. Many believed the babies would be better cared for by their mothers, and doctors thought that a machine couldn’t help them better than they could. I am looking forward to reading about the community’s response to the incubators when Couney brings his nursery to Coney Island, New York. As I continue to read, I will follow Couney’s dedication to the infants and how people and doctors respond to his incubator nursery.


My Book: Miracle on Coney Island written by Claire Prentice

Image Source: http://www.neonatology.org/classics/silverman/silverman1.html


when your worldview changes

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Prince Hamlet’s world views are rocked by the death of his father. My own perception of the world and my life was altered this past summer, not through loss but through life.

I’ve grown up in a Christian family. We pray before we eat, and try to go to church as much as we can. I can remember learning bible stories in Sunday school from a young age, and faith has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It would be a lie to say I’ve always been confident in my faith, when I know it has been tested. These events have confirmed for me that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This past summer, I traveled to Chitipa, Malawi with my church. A quick google-search will tell you that Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries, but is nicknamed “the warm heart of Africa.” When we were in Chitipa we were involved in a VBS camp for kids that are a part of the school program that my church sponsors, a bible-study of college students, and an English-training program for the Malawian teachers.

In Bob Goff’s book, Love Does, he says that, “faith isn’t an exclusive club” and when the other members of my church and I traveled to Malawi, we were careful to not bring the mindset that we were traveling to give people the help they needed, but rather to go with the thought that together, with the Malawians, we can praise God and help bring his Kingdom a little closer to Earth, and in reality, the people of Chitipa helped me in more deep and spiritual ways than I could have imagined.

The smiles that met us when we got off the plane in Malawi showed us why the country is known as “the warm heart of Africa”. During one day at VBS camp, we met with all the girls of the camp and gave them each toiletries and personal hygiene kit. I was given the job to show all the girls the different items in the bag. The moment that I held up the small pair of new underwear that would be included in each bag, the room quite literally erupted in screaming and clapping and ululations, which are the high-pitched sounds that Malawian women make when they’re excited or happy. The fact that these girls were so overcome with joy to receive a pair of new underwear, made me feel overwhelmed with emotion. I was smiling and nodding to all the girls, and then I was crying because I felt a squeeze in my heart. In this moment -I know it seems cheesy- I could feel God’s hand around my heart.

Something I learned through helping at the VBS camps, were that each and every person was so happy to be able to praise God and wasn’t weighed down by all the adversity they faced in their day to day lives. While we are so blessed with everything that is available to us, how many people could say they are so deeply and spiritually satisfied just by singing to praise the Lord. The kids coming to the camp had to walk miles upon miles to travel to a spot where a car could pick them up and drive them through the road security checkpoints where corrupt police-officers carried automatic weapons and stopped each car. When we passes these checkpoints ourselves I had fear in my heart. Still, when each child arrived at camp they were so happy and ready to learn and praise God.

How often are we filled with that kind of unhindered happiness? I think that we rarely in our lives come into contact with the kind of struggles that most of the children and adults faced: starvation, extremely limited medical care, water only available to one well that supplied multiple towns, no access to technology, no access to running showers or baths, no access to modern cooking methods… This list goes on and on. While all of the struggles that individuals face in America are justified and I’m not trying to discredit them, I think that we can all learn something from a community like Malawi. We can learn how to truly give to God all our struggles and seek satisfaction through his path.

Reading with Trust

The Play, Proof, written by David Auburn prompts readers to discover when they trust the characters in a piece of writing, and when to “read with trust”. Throughout the play, the reader follows Catherine and her relationships with her father (Robert), sister (Claire), and lover (Hal). Towards the end of the play, Catherine and Hal’s relationship implodes based on Hal’s lack of trust towards Catherine. She refuses to accept his apology and doesn’t understand why he needed proof in order to believe her.

When I read the play, I believed that Catherine composed the proof. Her considerate personality and behavior, illustrated through her loving care of Robert, convinced me that she would not have stolen the proof. However, some readers may not have read the play with trust in Catherine’s intentions. When the readers reach the moment where they must choose for themselves whether to trust Catherine, they must choose whether to “read with trust”. I found Catherine to be a credible character; however, some may approach Auburn’s play with skepticism. This skepticism may be a product of personal experiences or simply how one choose to approach a piece of writing.

Throughout the play, we learn that those who surround Catherine find a reason to doubt her. Robert doubts her choices for food and education, Claire doubts her stability, and Hal doubts her mathematical capabilities. This could affect whether the reader trusts Catherine because one sees how the other characters are skeptical of her.

I personally find it important to trust the intentions of characters unless they prove to me otherwise. When I am reading, whether it’s a novel, play, or short story, I choose to expect the best out of the characters and plot until I learn that they are worthy of distrust. When I was reading Proof, I found Catherine to be a credible character because of how she cared for her father. Her intentions toward Robert were based in kindness and love. I don’t believe someone who put their life on hold to take care of their father would be capable of stealing one of his proofs. Despite Catherine’s frequent emotional state, I find her to be a stable character worthy of the reader’s trust.

When Catherine’s loved ones are quick to distrust her, I couldn’t help but be upset by their lack of trust. These characters should place a higher value on the relationship they have with Catherine than having proof to confirm her story.

In conclusion, I find Catherine from Proof to be deserving of my trust as a reader. However, some may find her to be a unreliable character based on their own perception of the play.

Frankenstein Pharmaceuticals

MANCHIN+EPIPENIn Mary Shelley’s Novel, Frankenstein, the reader learns how an action’s intentions don’t justify their consequences. Through the reading of this novel, and other literature one can learn how when someone act without consideration it results in hurting others. Whether reading a classic novel, or a contemporary short story, the author conveys how their character’s actions affect others throughout their story. Today, more and more people are losing the ability to realize the consequences their actions will have on others.

One example of this is the Mylan EpiPen price controversy. When Mylan raised the price of their Epinephrine Injections by almost 500%, many patients lost the ability to purchase their medication due to this drastic price change. When asked about their actions Mylan responded when their CEO, “justified the price increases by pointing to what she insisted were ‘investments’  made to improve the device and patient access” (Silverman). Even though the CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch, cited the reason for the increase in price of their product, the consequences that ensued from their actions cannot be justified. Bresch used scientific advancement as a justification for Mylan’s actions, which is very similar to Shelley’s story. In the novel Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein justifies the creation of his creature in the name of science and for scientific advancement. However, Victor’s lack of consideration for the consequences of his actions cannot be justifies by this. The death of his loved ones shows how his actions hurt others. The similarity between Mylan and Frankenstein illustrates that when actions hurt others they cannot be justified. Through the reading of literature, one learns how to understand the consequences of many character’s actions and how they affected the plot of different stories. This knowledge is important in order to decipher when to allow someone, like Mylan, to justify their actions, and when to continue pursuing the resulting injustice.


Silverman, Ed. “Mylan CEO Accepts Responsibility for EpiPen Price Hikes.” STAT,       STAT, 4 Dec. 2016, www.statnews.com/pharmalot2016/12/01/mylan-ceo-       responsibility-epipen-price/.