Martin Couney is not a name from history many will have heard of, but his unorthodox work with premature babies is something that should be celebrated.
Science and medicine have come so far that babies born way before term, more often than not, stand a fighting chance of survival. Even little ones born months too early will be given the best possible care and could go on to lead completely normal lives. You don't need us to tell you that has not always been the case.
Less than 100 years ago, babies born prematurely were given no more care than full-term babies. Doctors believed that a baby arriving early was a sign that they were "genetically inferior" reports Bored Panda, and were often left to die. Martin Couney did not agree with that sentiment and went about trying to make a change when it came to caring for premature babies.
Due to the widely held belief about premature babies, and the fact that Couney was later discovered not to be a doctor at all, he had to fund his venture in a rather unorthodox way. His incubators cost $15 per day to run (around $400 in today's money) and since the medical world didn't agree with his outlook, he had to find that money himself. He did so by putting the babies on show at Coney Island.
That's right, the very babies Couney was trying to save effectively worked for their own medical care in a way. Couney would charge patrons 25 cents each to come and marvel at the prematurely born babies, and that money paid to keep the incubators running. Morally dubious on so many levels, but it's estimated that the fake doctor saved the lives of around 6500 babies by doing this.
Couney vowed to continue doing what he was doing until there was a change in the way babies born prematurely were cared for. By the 1940s, that change had come, and incubators for babies born early were commonplace in the US. Sadly, despite the lives he saved and the change he helped instigate, Couney rarely gets recognized for his work. He passed away a poor man in his 80s during the 1950s.