POLIO’S TRAGIC LEGACY
The late Mark Kalluak was flown from near Eskimo Point in the District of Keewatin (now Arviat, Nunavut) in 1948 for treatment. He was six years old and would not return to his family until he was ten. Writing in a 1993 issue of Inuk
titut magazine, he recalled going from happy and bouncy to drowsy, nauseated, and achy in a matter of hours. “I don’t recall ever being so sick as I was then, tossing and turning and crying my heart out.” He lost all use of his left arm, and his right arm was partly paralyzed.
At the King George Hospital in Winnipeg, he was relieved to meet other Inuit and an interpreter, since he didn’t speak any English. Not long after his arrival, he wrote, staff started preparing to receive more medical evacuees from his home area. But they never arrived. They were on the plane that crashed in August 1949. Confined to bed, he was taken for daily exercises in a futile attempt to rebuild strength in his polio-weakened limbs. “For me, at least, it didn’t do the least bit of good, and its only result was to annoy me.” Finally, in the spring of 1952, he flew back to the North and home. “Oh, how truly wonderful it was,” he wrote.
Kalluak learned to read and write English during his four years in Winnipeg, and he became a respected translator, teacher, cultural consultant, and author. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1990 and was one of the first recipients of the Order of Nunavut. Despite the lasting damage to his arms and hands, and the separation from his family and home, he concluded his article, “If I had to live my life over I would not choose another path.”