Local Rotary clubs play large role in eradication

Well-known Oceanside woman fought the disease as a youngster in Ontario and wasn’t able to walk for a year

World Polio Day was celebrated Oct. 24, highlighting the major role that Rotary clubs both locally and internationally have played in the virtual eradication of this disease.

As of that date, only 406 new cases of polio, worldwide, have been reported this year. Over the course of the past five years, the four Oceanside Rotary Clubs have contributed approximately $44,000 towards this worthy cause.

Each dollar raised by Rotary clubs in Canada is now matched by the Canadian government and by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It seems equally important to put a face to polio survivors and the challenges they have faced and in many cases continue to face here in our own community.

One such story is that of a lively seven-year-old girl who came home from a swim in the river in Lindsey, Ont. in 1946, complaining of a bad headache.  Within three hours, she was paralysed, becoming the first case of polio in that community. The fear surrounding what was only beginning to be recognized as a highly contagious epidemic was so great that she was transported to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto in a hearse, so as not to compromise the ambulance.  Some five months later she was sent home, still unable to walk, with no further treatment prescribed and a grim future ahead of her.

Her mother then heard of Sister Kenny, an outback nurse in Australia, who was treating children with paralysis, using hot packs and massage with some success in spite of general scepticism within the medical community. After a year of her mother following Sister Kenny’s treatment, this little girl was at last able to walk, albeit with difficulty.

Fast forward to 2012.  The little girl is now a woman by the name of Donna Furneaux,  well-known in the Oceanside community. Against all odds, she became a medical lab technician and with her husband Barry raised five children on their farm. She co-founded the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market in 1996, held executive positions with the Arrowsmith Coombs Fair, co-founded the Farm Market Guide, was active as a Brownie leader and in kids’ sport, and served as the President of Oceanside Hospice for five years in the 1990’s.  She was named 1999’s Citizen of the Year by the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Donna’s busy life is not without its challenges today.  Approximately 95% of polio survivors eventually suffer from Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS).  Its symptoms are overwhelming fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle and joint pain, sleep disorders and cold intolerance, difficulty swallowing and breathing, and heightened sensitivity to anaesthetics.  These symptoms are often misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia.  Unfortunately, treatment for PPS is minimal, with pain-management and rest providing the best relief.

Not surprisingly, Donna is active in the BC Post-Polio Awareness Society.  She attended a PPS conference in Warm Springs, Georgia where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a polio survivor himself, established a treatment and rehabilitation centre in 1924.  She also attended the World Polio Conference in Copenhagen, a little more than a year ago.  Here in Oceanside, Donna and the local PPS support group welcome contact with other polio survivors whose lives are again being impacted by the after-effects of a disease whose name Generations X, Y and Z barely know.  A fitting mantra for these courageous polio survivors is one they adopted from their Australian counterparts, a triumphant affirmation of life:  “We’re still here!”


Submitted by Georgia Maclean, PR Chair

Qualicum Beach Rotary Club


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