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Lynda Mundstock: Beating polio

For Lynda Mundstock, the worldwide eradication of polio is a little personal. -  JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
For Lynda Mundstock, the worldwide eradication of polio is a little personal.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

For many of us, polio is not a disease that we are familiar with. Many are aware of it only because they have been inoculated against it. Although polio has plagued humans since ancient times, this contagious and devastating disease was virtually eliminated from the Western hemisphere, in the later half of the twentieth century, thanks to Jonas Salk’s discovery of a polio vaccine in 1955.

At the height of the polio epidemic in 1956, Lynda Mundstock was just a young, 12 year old girl and although her small, Saskatchewan community was gripped with fear, it didn’t particularly faze her. “People were scared. Children didn’t play, people were confined to their homes and farmers bought insurance but I don’t remember being scared,” said Lynda nonchalantly. Then, she too became afflicted by the disease and it impacted her life forever.

Although Lynda grew up on a mixed farm in rural Saskatchewan, she was not what you’d call your typical farm kid. “My mom was a town girl who moved out to the farm and I was sort of the same. I had chores to do inside the house but I didn’t have to work outside. That was something that my two brothers had to do,” she smiled.

Her father was insistent that his children learn to play an instrument and at the age of 7, Lynda began taking piano lessons. “Dad wouldn’t drive us to sports but he would drive for miles for music.” Lynda fell in love with the piano and practiced for hours. The one room schoolhouse which doubled as a church is where she further developed her skill. She was happy and life was good.

Then one warm, dark evening, during harvest time, she stood on a columbine, looking out over the fields when she felt as if the flu was coming on. “My throat was sore and my neck was quite stiff but I didn’t think anything of it. By the following morning, I had paralysis in my right arm. Being that I was a pianist, this was very devastating,” she explained.

Lynda was put in isolation, along with the other victims of polio. “If you had polio, you were kept in the hospital basement and visitors could only come and visit you through the window. I missed an entire month of school and when I went back, my muscles were still rather weak,” she said.

Her father was very diligent in ensuring that she worked towards full recovery. “I give him full credit for the fact that I have no real physical signs of polio. He made sure that I exercised every morning. I’d scream in pain but eventually my strength did come back. To this day, my left hand is far steadier than my right hand and my right hand is a touch weaker but that’s about it,” she said. Lynda was a lot more fortunate than many others who were afflicted with the more serious and severe paralytic form of polio.

Rotarians all over the world, including local Rotarians are working towards eradicating polio from the globe. Rotary has already contributed more than $1.2 billion to fight the disease but there’s more work that still needs to be done. Although new polio cases are at an all time low, if the effort does not continue until the disease is completely wiped out, the entire program could be derailed and thousands of children could become paralyzed. For Lynda, if this were to happen, it would indeed be tragic.

After recovering from the disease, she was able to carry on normally. She resumed playing the piano and even after she left home, continued her piano studies in Regina as she attended the University of Regina to obtain her teaching degree.

“I got my first teaching job in Whitehorse. My parents were horrified that I was going so far away,” she laughed. She enjoyed the north immensely and eventually got married and had three children. “I was up there for 14 years. My husband worked for the transport division at Cassiar Asbestos Mine. The mine  ended up closing which forced him to look for work elsewhere.” Thus, the family relocated to Chilliwack.

Upon arriving, Lynda joined the local Music Teacher’s Branch and began teaching piano, something that she continues to do even today. When she’s not teaching, Lynda is very active and enjoys curling, golfing and playing pickle ball. “It’s a cross between tennis and table tennis and that’s where I’m headed now,” she laughed.

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