Thursday, 25 August 2011

Polio in Winnipeg

On 17th March last year I wrote a blog about 'Winnipeg's Navy' and followed it by one on its one time Commander, Liston Burns McIlhagga (Senior). On page 120 of the book entitled Winnipeg's Navy there is a significant quote from Liston when he was Commanding Officer of Chippawa. It concerns the 'Aid to Victims of the 1953 Polio Epidemic in Canada'. It concludes the following extract from that book and is one of many 'lights' that can be shed on the life and career of a remarkable man:

'In the early 1950s, a polio epidemic affected many Canadians. In fact, on a per capita basis, the polio epidemic in Manitoba was said to be among the world’s worst. In Manitoba, there were 2,345 cases and 86 deaths. Most of the survivors suffered from paralysis in some form. Some very slightly, and others to a degree that they spent many months attached to an “iron lung”.

The Manitoban response to this disease was magnificent. Doctors and nurses strove unceasingly to care for the victims. Citizens and organizations responded spontaneously with donations of money and supplies. Everybody banded together to fight polio.

One of the difficulties that arose was an acute shortage of nurses. Along with the other services, the Navy responded to the challenge by sending teams of medical nurses from both coasts. Over a period of four months navy nurses played a most important part, working long hours and often with the most difficult cases. CHIPPAWA felt pride in the Navy’s contribution to the fight against polio.

In the latter days of the epidemic, it was thought that water therapy was also necessary to treat recovering patients. A large-scale heated pool was needed for this treatment. Commander F. H. Pinfold generously offered the use of the CHIPPAWA pool.............

The value of the water therapy project was obvious. The improvement in both the patients’ physical and mental conditions was seen by all. Also, extremely important, was the good will that came from this effort. Press, radio, TV, and newsreels carried the story to all parts of the world. Nothing but good came from such a heart-warming presentation of a most worthy cause.

The effort on the part of CHIPPAWA personnel to carry through their part in this program was considerable. It was a tribute to the hard work of all concerned, that the aid to the polio victims was carried out without disruption to the training schedule, and a minimum of conflict with normal ship’s routine.

As the Commanding Officer, Commander Liston McIlhagga, made the comment, “This is a job for which this division is perhaps uniquely equipped. We accept challenge of this fact and, as long as the Navy in Winnipeg is required to play this special role in the life of the community, we will fulfil it to the utmost.”'

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