Joyful night for group of polio survivors

World-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman knew his audience at a Seattle Symphony concert.

Many were polio survivors.

Not an odd connection, as Perlman had fought the disease, too.

Polio survivor Merilyn Boyd of Lynnwood and the violinist got a moment to talk after the show about how the use of scooters and power chairs has enhanced the lives of polio survivors and others unable to walk on their own.

Boyd’s daughter, Lynne Hollister of Granite Falls, said she watched Perlman also talk to other polio survivors.

“He graciously autographed programs and posed for pictures,” Hollister said. “As he left, he took time to give tips and encouragement to a young violinist.”

Perlman was born in Israel in 1945. He lost the use of his legs at age 4 due to polio.

On Jan. 14, 2009, we wrote about Boyd and her daughter, who provided home care. “Iron lung helped her survive; now polio is part of life.”

Boyd “moved” inside an iron lung when she was 22, a wife and mother of two toddlers.

“Boyd’s iron lung opened like a suitcase,” we wrote. “The nurses who kept her alive lifted a heavy hatch or reached through portholes to care for her.”

Patients with polio survived inside machines the size of caskets that entombed paralyzed bodies for weeks, months or years. Boyd said she welcomed the cocoon, as it was the only device that kept her breathing.

For polio survivors, Hollister said, seeing Perlman in concert, and having the opportunity to meet him, was a moment none of them thought they would live to experience.

“They overcame the crippling effects of this terrible disease,” she said. “They have become husbands, wives, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. They became accomplished musicians, teachers, business owners, community volunteers and more. They drive their own cars, own homes, travel, swim, hike and enjoy the activities of living that we all do.”

Polio may have robbed them of the use of their legs or arms, she said, or the ability to walk or breathe without effort, but polio did not rob them of their determination to live their life to the fullest. Her mother co-founded the Everett Post-Polio Support Group. Members celebrated a 19th anniversary Saturday in Everett.

Some attended the symphony thanks to co-chairs of the South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Foundation, Kathleen Stratton Zunkel and her husband, David Zunkel.

The couple hosted the past district governor for Rotary District No. 5050, John Bosch and his wife, Maxine Bosch. Rotary International has worked for decades to eradicate polio.

Other members of the Everett Post-Polio Support Group at the concert were Judy Johnson of Tulalip, Norma Nickols of Bothell, Scott Stahr of Redmond and Joan Stocker of Everett.

The Everett group supports the worldwide fight against polio. Members meet at 1 p.m. every second Saturday at Providence Everett Medical Center’s Monte Cristo room, Pacific Campus, 916 Pacific Ave., Everett.

“People mistakenly believe that polio has been wiped off the face of the earth,” Hollister said. “Polio is still an epidemic in many second- and third-world countries. There are still new cases of polio in the United States.”

Members of the support group talked about the disease with the symphony superstar, who wore a black silk top and drove a dark red scooter.

“Tips on how they all stay active as they enter their 60s, 70s and 80s were exchanged,” Hollister said. “(Perlman) was very generous with his time after giving us a wonderful concert.”

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.

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