AMHERST, N.S. - In 1958, a young British man, Robin Cavendish felt ill. It wasn’t long after the 28-year-old was diagnosed with polio, paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breath without a respirator.
Determined to restore his life, despite being given three months to live, the newly married man comes up with the idea of a wheelchair with a respirator and, with the help of friend Teddy Hall, builds one and goes on to live until 1994.
Cavendish’s son, Jonathan, wanting to share his father’s story commissioned writer William Nicholson to write the screenplay for a film that would make its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017. It would be released in the United States a month later.
“There was a time when a polio diagnosis was a death sentence,” longtime Amherst and Sackville, N.B. Rotarian Pam Harrison said. “Now, we’re so close to eradicating this killer disease from the face of the earth.”
Rotary International is urging Rotary clubs around the world to host 5,000 events on World Polio Day, Oct. 24, to continue the effort to immunize children in those countries where polio continues – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Thirty years ago, when Rotary made polio its target, the disease was in 125 countries. It has been suggested 17.4 million people who are currently healthy would have been paralyzed without its immunization efforts.
“At one time there were 350,000 children diagnosed annually with polio. Last year, there were just 19 cases – 15 of which were in Afghanistan,” said Harrison, who in 2005, on the 100th anniversary of Rotary, participated in an immunization campaign in India – which is now polio-free.
To mark World Polio Day, Harrison is bringing the movie Breathe to eastern Canada for the first time by showing it at Sackville’s Vogue Theatre at 7 p.m. All donations from the film will go to Rotary’s Polio Plus Campaign – every dollar of which is being double-matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“One dollar will be matched twice for a donation of three dollars,” she said. “So, if you donate $10, it becomes $30; if you donate $20, it becomes $60.”
Harrison said she’s hoping Rotarians in both Port Elgin, N.B. and Amherst will participate and she added McDonald’s is supporting the effort by providing a coupon for a free coffee to everyone who makes a donation.
Harrison hopes the Sackville theatre is filled to capacity.
“I think there are 250 seats in the theatre. It would be nice to see every seat filled by a Rotarian,” she said. “After the film I’m hoping to find a way to project the Polio Plus theme and have a photo of Rotarians in front of that theme. Then, every Rotarian can take a photo of themselves with the theme and spread the word via social media.”