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Doc recalls province's worst polio epidemic in 1953

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DR. JOHN Alcock remembers the polio epidemic of 1953. The St. James resident was a physician at Winnipeg's former municipal hospitals -- King George, King Edward and Princess Elizabeth -- on Morley Avenue (now Riverview Health Centre).

On the 50th anniversary of this epidemic, the Post Polio Network of Manitoba will hold a symposium this weekend. For more on the symposium, read the Health Page (p. 4).

When Alcock arrived at the municipal hospitals in 1951, there were three polio patients at King George. All had respiratory paralysis. All died. Nine months later, the hospital had about 75 cases. In 1952 there were 150 polio patient admissions, and in 1953 there were over 2,000 people diagnosed with polio.

Lumbar punctures were done on patients who had a fever and some sign of paralysis in their legs, arms or chest. This was donme to check for what was presumed to be polio cells in the spinal fluid, once other conditions were ruled out.

"Any time people had a fever, the thought of polio crossed their minds. They read about it in the paper. People were not concerned with where it came from but with what was going to happen to them," says Alcock. "There was not much we could do. We put them on bed rest and kept them in isolation until their fever subsided and they were presumed no longer infectious."

Then, a physiotherapist or occupational therapist would work with them to help restore as much movement as possible. Muscle power could come back after the fever subsided and sometimes, orthopedic surgery would follow to stabilize joints. Many polio patients recovered the ability to breathe on their own, but not as well as they had done in the past.

Polio epidemics were not a new thing. Past epidemics in Winnipeg included 1917, 1928, 1939, 1941 and 1948. During the 1953 epidemic, polio patients stayed at King George for an average of one to two weeks. While in isolation, they were not allowed to have visitors. Polio inoculations were introduced in 1955. The last case of polio at King George was in 1960.

Alcock says the municipal hospitals were "a pleasurable place to work," with lots of patient entertainment, library books, and patient bus trips to community events.

In addition to tuberculosis and polio, he remembers dealing with an outbreak of diptheria in the mid-1950s, as well as treating hepatitis patients. When he retired as medical director in 1990, the next epidemic was just beginning -- hospitals were discussing admissions for palliative care of AIDS patients.

* * *

Alan Morinis may be best known for his work in film, most notably as producer of the Canadian film The Outside Chance of Maximillian Glick. But he has also written a book called Climbing Jacob's Ladder, about his return to his Jewish roots.

You can share in the spiritual journey of this Canadian filmmaker during a public speaking event on June 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Asper Jewish Community Campus. From 6 to 7 p.m., Morinis will be signing copies of his book at McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Shopping Centre.

His talk at the Asper Centre will be entitled From Hinduism to Judaism: One Filmmaker's Spiritual Journey. Morinis will trace back to his doctoral studies in eastern philosophy as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, to travel through Asia and back to Canada to form two international service organizations that provide aid to the underpriviledged in India. He then got into making movies. By 1997, Morinis returned to his Jewish roots and wrote the best-selling book that the LA Times calls "a compelling portait of the relationship between a student and a teacher."

For further information, call the Rady Jewish Community Centre at 477-7510.

* * *

This fall, 71 Golden Gate Middle School students will see their poems in print.

The kids entered a contest last fall through the Poetry Institute of Canada, and were selected for publication in the Institute's young writers annual anthology of verse entitled Poetic Journeys.

"We are quite proud of them," says Alice Szarkiewicz, who heads up the English department at the St. James school. "Many teachers use this contest as an opportunity to encourage poetry writing in the classroom, and to help develop the creative writing skills of their students."

The contest has been offered for the past eight years. Teachers send in poems by students, up to 24 lines on any subject. Kids whose work will be published also receive a certificate of recognition.

* * *

Freelance writer Liz Katynski is the Community Review writer for West Winnipeg. If you have a story idea, call 255-6613 or send an e-mail to

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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