'What Remains': Life in a leprosarium

Carville National Leprosarium
Carville National Leprosarium

While serving as a hospital and quarantine center for those afflicted with leprosy, the Carville Leprosarium unfortunately also became a prison for those same afflicted souls.

'What Remains' delves into Carville's sad past and educational present.

Leprosy is a word that's charged with a lot of bad stigma in many languages and many cultures. In order to get away from that, many people have tried to change the name to Hansen's Disease, in honor of the doctor who discovered the germ.

The old plantation house that became this hospital is located in a big bend of the Mississippi river near a little town named Carville. It's about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge.

The first patients were brought in a barge in 1894. In 1917, the federal government authorized the establishment of a hospital for Leprosy patients who could come from around the country.

Hansen's disease is an infection that can cause numbness of fingers and toes. It can cause them to be deformed in specific ways, or 'absorbed.' They didn't 'drop off' - that's a myth.

Simeon Peterson was just 23 years old when he moved to Carville to get medical treatment in 1951. He's been there 63 years.

At the time, being under quarantine at Carville wasn't just for a few days or weeks -- it was for life.

Peterson remembers having to cut a hole in the fence if he wanted to go out onto the street.

Still, the program played a huge role in his life: it discovered the first effective drug to treat the disease.

Now, Carville no longer requires people to be quarantined or treated in a hospital. In all the years it's been open, nobody who worked there ever caught the disease.

Now, the hospital is closed, but it remains a residence for the senior citizens.