Staff member in Cath Lab in scrubsStaff in scrubs in the Cath LabStaff in scrubs in the Cath Lab


Seventy-five years of health

When he was just four years old, Peter was dragged out of the water in Elwood.

His muscles gave up and he was drowning.

"It was 1954. I can remember being bundled into the car with my mum and my sisters and taken straight to the doctors. I had polio," he explains.

While polio is rarely seen now, in fact the last known new case was in 1972, Peter was one of thousands of people in Australia to contract the disease before the vaccine was introduced in 1956 - two years after Peter was diagnosed.

Today marks 75 years since countries of the world came together and founded the World Health Organisation to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable – so everyone, everywhere can attain the highest level of health and well-being.

And how far public health has come in 75 years.

Peter can vividly recall being taken into a sort of a room "where there were stainless steel tables and bright lights, like an operating theatre, while fluid was draining from my spine".

"I remember this feeling of hanging upside down. For many years, I didn't know what that was. Many years later, I spoke to a nurse who worked at an infectious diseases hospital in Fairfield. She explained to me about 'frog breathing', which is a gulp breathing technique and rocking beds used at the time," he adds.

Peter adds how it would have probably been difficult to put young children into iron lungs, and that is why he thinks he was placed in a rocking bed.

"I remember it was ages before I could see my mum, as she was told to go home and quarantine with my siblings. One day, she would bring my rubber duck into the hospital. On leaving, I remember the nurse would not let me take it home. I guess even back then, the nurses were doing all they could to prevent the disease from spreading," he explains.

Peter remembers having regular physio treatments at home, after spending three months in hospital.

"My recovery was painful, but I felt supported by the family, the Red Cross and remember having a stretcher bed. The care I received was outstanding. When I went out of plaster, my legs started to recover, and I went on to get more involved in sports," he explains.

Peter was able to play rugby, ride a bike and worked in several demanding roles over his career. When he was about 50, he noticed his body was struggling to do physical activity and that his muscles were getting weaker.

Looking back, he is in awe of the people, especially the nurses, working through that difficult time, when vaccines for polio didn't exist.

"It was just so hard on the staff and so emotionally demanding. Because there was no vaccination, people didn't really understand what was happening," he recalls.

Peter continues to be a patient of the Victorian Respiratory Support Service at Austin Health, receiving treatment for the ongoing effects of having polio as a child.