CONGRATULATIONS TO DR. ANN MCKEE — OUR FORMER NEUROPATHOLOGY FELLOW!
AT A SHOE DEALER CONVENTION in Boston in 1920, Dr. Jacob Lowe showed off an invention he called the Foot-O-Scope. His fluoroscope used an X-ray tube to produce a fluorescent image of the bones in a foot as well as the shoe around it, ensuring a perfect fit. It was a modification of a device the Boston physician created during World War I to examine the injured feet of servicemen without removing their boots.
By the early 1950s, some 10,000 shoe-fitting fluoroscopes were in operation across the country, according to medical historians Jacalyn Duffin and Charles Hayter. The machines were especially popular with kids, who delighted in looking through the viewing port to see their bones light up.
When two significant medical journals warned in 1949 about radiation exposure from the devices, the industry first dismissed and then disputed those concerns. The warnings became harder to ignore: A shoe model suffered a radiation burn so severe her leg had to be amputated. By 1970, the machines were widely banned.
To today’s risk-averse parents, stories of children being needlessly exposed to radiation at the shoe store sound unfathomable. A generation from now, the work of another Boston physician, Dr. Ann McKee, may mean people will react with the same incredulousness to stories of how parents once signed up their 6-year-olds to play tackle football. Or maybe even how talented young men willingly smashed their heads into the heads of other talented young men every weekend in autumn, seeking glory and big paydays.
If that wholesale change in public opinion comes to pass, expect historians to credit McKee’s pioneering work. In charting the arc of football as our national obsession, there’s a good chance 2017 will mark the start of its irreversible decline.
For her skill and relentlessness in pursuing research that is forcing us to confront hard truths most of us would rather avoid, McKee is our Bostonian of the Year.