Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Night of Magic

"When polio is finally wiped from the face of the earth, it will be only the second disease - the first was smallpox - ever eradicated due to human intervention. It will be a global health accomplishment of monumental proportion. Tonight's audience, and the great performers whose work they came to enjoy, will always be able to say that they played a role in this historic achievement." - from the NY Philharmonic Playbill on Dec. 2, 2009

I am so blessed to have been a part of the audience for the Concert to Benefit End Polio Now sponsored by Rotary International at Lincoln Center on December 2nd. Itzhak Perlman was stricken with polio at the age of 4. Despite his limitations in mobility, his spirit could not be contained and the gift of music would blossom bringing joy to audiences for decades. He has received critical acclaim and Grammy and Emmy awards. He is a world ambassador with his violin as his instrument.

Growing up I would watch Itzhak Perlman on the Ed Sullivan show. As a fellow polio survivor, I felt a special connection to him. I had no idea that one day I would be seated in the 3rd row of the orchestra at Lincoln Center hearing him play with the NY Philharmonic in a night of magic and music. Before the concert began, Rotary showed a slide show about the End Polio Now Campaign. To quote Desmond Tutu, as he held his forefinger and thumb an inch apart "we are this close to eradicating polio." As the lights dimmed, Rotary International showed a movie about polio eradication; vaccinating children in the areas where polio still exists. And the film showed one mother whose child with atrophied limbs is shown; she tearfully chokes out that her child was not able to be vaccinated. But there is incredible hope that with the End Polio Now effort and the tireless work of the Rotary volunteers that we will create a polio free world.

After the first piece performed by the Philharmonic, Mr. Perlman entered the stage of Avery Fischer Hall. Although he has a motorized wheelchair, he used his canadian crutches to walk on stage. His mobility was labored as he inched his way toward his seat in the violin section of the stage. His legs, despite braces, do not have the strength to support him and he plopped into his seat. Once he placed the violin under his chin, he closed his eyes and the magic began....

With each stroke of the bow across the strings, the music wafted into the soul of every audience member. It was as though he had released a flock of butterflies who carried the notes on their wings and kissed each person in attendance. The music filled his soul; there was no need for sheet music. The music flowed and he and the NY Philharmonic were one channelling the music of the masters. He insisted on standing after each piece played despite the obvious physical effort involved. He was honouring the audience and the audience was honouring him. It was a mutual love affair!

After the last note was sounded and Mr. Perlman left the stage for the final time after returning for a rousing standing ovation, my husband and I began to exit the theater. I had talked before the performance to the Rotarian seated next to me sharing my journey with polio and post polio syndrome. We could not walk more than a few steps at a time as he introduced me to other Rotarians snapping photos. I met Ann Hussey. has this to say in the concert recap:

"Rotarians, many of whom traveled from great distances to attend the historic event, deemed the concert a success. Ann Lee Hussey, Murphy's friend and a district governor-elect, said the event really helped raise awareness about polio.

Hussey, a member of the Rotary Club of Casco Bay-Sunrise (Portland Area), Maine, is chair of the Rotarian Action Group for Polio Survivors and Associates.

A polio survivor herself, she remembers when people with the disease were shunned, and survivors didn’t want to talk about it for fear of standing out. But Hussey says she encourages polio survivors to share their story with Rotary clubs and others, because it helps motivate Rotarians to continue the push to end the disease. “It will be such a relief when polio is gone,” she said.

As the ushers guided us toward the doors I was stopped by a striking woman who said, "Mary?" When I said yes, she said, "I'm Mary Jane Salk". I 'met' Mary Jane on and she is going to be one of the guests on the January 10, 2010 Jordan Rich Show, Polio:Forgotten But Not Gone. I had email'ed her where our seats were located but with a sold out crowd at Lincoln Center never dreamed that we would be able to meet up! Mary Jane was married to Lee Salk, brother of Jonas Salk who is responsible for saving millions of lives with his vaccine.

It was indeed a night of magic. The magic continued the next day when, as my husband were looking for the deli we had eaten at the day before, were 'lost'. We stopped an individual in jogging pants and knew this was a native New Yorker asking him if he knew where Lansky's Delicatessen was located. It was a strange feeling knowing it was right around the block from our hotel and not being able to find it - but as I said, the magic continued. He did not know where the deli was located and asked two policeman if they could help. They didn't know; as my husband and I walked on, we spotted the Deli when our stranger came running up to us to tell us he asked another passer by if they knew where it was and he gave us the address. We stopped to chat for a few minutes. His father was a pediatrician who went to college with Jonas Salk. They had an opportunity to meet him. His father also worked with Sister Kenney who pioneered the rehabilitation treatment for polio survivors:
"In 1911, when she encountered her first case of polio, Sister Kenny was unaware of conventional polio treatment -- immobilizing the affected muscles with splints. Instead, she used common sense and her understanding of anatomy to treat the symptoms of the disease. Sister Kenny applied moist hotpacks to help loosen muscles, relieve pain, and enable limbs to be moved, stretched, and strengthened. The theory of her treatment was muscle "re-education" -- the retraining of muscles so that they could function again. Sister Kenny's pioneering principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physical therapy." (

I am so grateful for having the opportunity to transform one of the greatest challenges of my life into a blessing and be a part of the movement to create a polio free world. I am so grateful to the staff at the Spaulding Rehab International Rehab Center for Polio for all they do to help polio and post polio survivors worldwide. And I am so grateful to you, my readers, for coming along on this amazing journey!

If you would like to join the movement, you can make a donation at: End Polio Now

With the purchase of my book of inspirational poetry, "New World Greetings:Inspirational Poetry and Musings for a New World", you support the Spaulding Rehab's International Rehab Center for Polio. If you are a Rotarian, I will donate the 20% of the proceeds of your book sales to the End Polio Now campaign.

Be sure to light up your holidays this year with an original poem from New World Greeting Cards.

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