Desperation during the polio epidemic brought troubling treatments

You’ve probably heard about David Onley.

He is remarkable for lots of reasons. He was Canada’s first news reporter with a visible disability. He’s been a dogged advocate for accessibility, and of course he was Ontario’s representative to the Queen as the 28th lieutenant-governor.

You probably haven’t heard about the time a man held a knife to his throat and threatened to kill him.

When Onley was three-years-old he contracted polio, a virus that left thousands of Canadian children dead or with permanent disabilities. In Onley’s case, it affected both of his arms and his legs.

He spent seven months at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. His parents could only visit once a week, and could only see him through a window. That separation had a lasting effect, perhaps as poignant as the virus itself.

“That was worse than not seeing them at all because after a while you just sort of forget about them,” Onley said from his Toronto home. “It creates major separation anxiety.”

When Onley returned home, a new anxiety set in – one that came from the doctor who was in charge of his physiotherapy.

“When he would arrive, it was like the scene out of the Exorcist,” Onley recalled. “The man with the black bag on the poster and the silhouette. I was initially terrified.”

As it turns out, it wasn’t the black bag and imposing silhouette that Onley needed to worry about. It was the doctor’s technique.

Onley was chosen for a controversial therapy, called “The Kenny Method.” It was named after Elizabeth Kenny, who was an Australian self-taught nurse credited by some as one of the pioneers of modern physiotherapy.

Her method was specifically meant for polio survivors and involved applying strips of hot, wet cloths to damaged limbs and then “exercising” them, which meant physically stretching them the way they should normally move. The premise was that it would prevent deformities and build up muscles.

It was painful. It was also effective.

Onley doesn’t recall the physician’s full name, but he certainly can see him when he closes his eyes. He was a local practitioner from Onley’s hometown of Midland, Ont. and made the trip to Scarborough to administer the Kenny Method in the kitchen of Onley’s grandparents’ home.

On the first day, the physician began the exercises, which were extremely painful. The doctor stopped and asked Onley’s parents and grandparents to leave the house.

“He didn’t want them to see him when he pulled out his knife and put it to my throat and said, ‘You move this leg or I’m going to slit your throat right now and let you bleed to death. Now move the leg,’” recalls Onley.

Onley was terrified. But the threat was effective.

“You know what? I moved the leg and I moved the arm and I moved whatever he wanted me to because I believed him,” he said.

He never spoke a word of the violent threat to anybody at the time. The treatment lasted seven days a week for months. At the end of it, Onley could ride a tricycle, walk and even run a bit.

That sort of physiotherapy wouldn’t fly today, of course. It would be headline news and result in the doctor getting his licence pulled. However, the “ultimate tough love,” as Onley describes it, worked. His parents saw substantial improvement over the months of the unorthodox treatment.

Onley is not traumatized by the memory. In fact, he speaks affectionately of his time with the doctor, who he felt genuinely cared about his rehabilitation. He can even laugh about it.

“I’ve never had difficulty following orders from that time on,” he said.

Years later, as an adult, Onley met the doctor again.

“He could see that I had definitely recovered and I knew it meant a great deal to him. We had some great conversations. He’s a great man,” says Onley.

Two years after Onley contracted the virus, Dr. Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine, saving countless children from the debilitating effects of the epidemic’s worst cases. The vaccine took decades to fully take control of the disease and Canada didn’t declare itself polio-free until 1994.

That’s been the same case for most of the world, where the virus has almost completely been eradicated. However, that’s beginning to change.

COVID-19 has disrupted immunization programs around the globe and now new polio cases have begun to show up in places where the virus was once held at bay by the vaccine.

Eighty million babies have now missed critical vaccines, prompting the World Health Organization to sound the alarm and ask countries to re-instate their vaccination campaigns.

If you’re wondering if your child can still be vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact your family health provider.

Onley, now 70, can’t say enough about the importance of vaccinations.

“Had the polio vaccine existed in the Tuesday before Labour Day 1953, I would have got it and my life would be completely different,” he said.

Although he went on to have a long and successful career, Onley wants people to know that just like with COVID-19, polio has long-term effects.

For him, lifelong effects include post-polio fatigue and, of course, mobility challenges. He says when a vaccine for COVID-19 comes along, no one will need to threaten him with a knife to get one.

“As soon as the COVID vaccine comes out I will get my shot.”

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‘Very troubling’: Three new community transmitted cases in South Australia

An extremely rare case in Adelaide is causing major concern as a growing cluster, as hundreds are feared to have been exposed to the virus.

The source of the new infections are not known with health authorities fearing hundreds of people in the city’s northern suburbs could have been exposed to the deadly virus.

The next 24-hours will be crucial in identifying the source of the “potentially disastrous” outbreak.

A woman in her 80s was diagnosed at Adelaide’s Lyell McEwin Hospital emergency department on Saturday after visiting on Friday night, leading to 90 staff and patients being ordered to quarantine.

The woman was in emergency for 10 hours on Friday and was tested early on Saturday.

Two of the woman’s family members, a female in her 50s and a man in his 60s, have tested positive for the deadly virus.

The three are all from the same family and are related to a staff member from a medi-hotel holding quarantined patients in Adeaide. Health authorities say they are considering this as the likely source but the information is “very, very early”.

A fourth case linked to the cluster was reported later on Sunday after a prison worker tested positive in the growing cluster.

ABC News reports SA Correctional Services chief executive David Brown said “an employee at Yatala Labour Prison in Adelaide’s northern suburbs had tested positive”.

The positive case is understood to be a close family contact of one of the cases.

Camera IconProf Spurrier said the outbreak is ‘very troubling’. Credit: News Corp Australia, Russell Millard

Four other members of the family are showing symptoms and are awaiting coronavirus testing results.

The state’s chief health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier described the new cases as “very troubling”, revealing the woman had visited a suburban shopping centre, Parafield Plaza Supermarket.

She said the cluster is the worst outbreak in South Australia yet, fearing multiple public venues may have been visited by family members yet to be confirmed as infected patients.

“I’m expecting that we will have more cases,” Prof Spurrier said Sunday.

The woman’s relatives work in a range of vulnerable industries, including health care, aged care and correctional services.

Anyone who visited Parafield Plaza or any other venue in the area and is showing symptoms is being urged to get tested immediately.

“I am expecting we will have more cases, which is why I am absolutely warning South Australians: this is a wake-up call — if you have respiratory symptoms, you‘ve got to get tested,” she said.

SA Health has issued a contact tracing alert for anyone who was at the Lyell McEwin Hospital between 5.30pm on Friday and 4.00am Saturday, as well as the Parafield Plaza Supermarket between 10.30am and 11.30am on Thursday.

The woman had visited Parafield Plaza Supermarket.
Camera IconThe woman had visited Parafield Plaza Supermarket. Credit: Supplied

Health authorities are now scrambling to contain the cluster by setting up temporary testing stations in the northern suburbs and contact tracing will focus on the medi-hotel where the family member works.

“Obviously, this is where we‘re considering the source to be,” Prof Spurrier said.

“This is a very close-knit family and they do spend a lot of time with each other.”

The woman in her 80s has been shifted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and is reportedly in a stable condition.

Another case was reported in SA but this patient was already in hotel quarantine, taking the state’s active cases to 19.

Chaos followed at Adelaide’s airport as WA immediately imposed restrictions on South Australian travellers, required to complete 14 days in quarantine.

Anyone arriving from South Australia at Perth Airport will now be tested for COVID-19 on arrival (or within 24 hours of arrival at another COVID clinic) and on subsequent quarantine days.

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‘Deeply troubling’ Afghanistan war crimes report handed to Defence Chief as Government prepares response

A four-year-long investigation into “extremely serious” and “deeply troubling” actions by Australian troops during the Afghanistan war has ended, with the formal findings handed to Defence Chief General Angus Campbell and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.

“I intend to speak about the key findings once I have read and reflected on the report,” General Campbell said in a statement.

“Welfare and other support services are available to those affected by the Afghanistan Inquiry.”

Sources have told the ABC the final report recommends further action, such as criminal prosecutions or military sanctions, for around 10 incidents involving between 15 and 20 people.

In 2016 the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) began examining allegations of unlawful killings and other possible breaches of the law of armed conflict committed mainly by elite soldiers during their lengthy military engagement.

Since that time, New South Wales Justice Paul Brereton, a Major General in the Army Reserve, has interviewed hundreds of witnesses behind closed doors and his secretive inquiry has even gathered evidence overseas.

Earlier this year the IGADF revealed 55 separate potential breaches of the laws of armed conflict by Australia’s Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) had been identified between 2005 and 2016.

The IGADF noted its inquiry was not focused on decisions made during the “heat of battle” but rather the treatment of individuals who were clearly non-combatants or who were no longer combatants.

Senior Army figures estimate that during the 12-year Afghanistan deployment, Australian personnel are believed to have killed over 5,000 individuals who were mainly suspected Taliban fighters, but also numerous innocent civilians.


Last month, Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr wrote to members of the force warning that allegations contained in the IGADF report were “extremely serious and deeply troubling”.

“They do not reflect who we aspire to be. We will act on the findings when they are presented to the Chief of the Defence Force,” he wrote.

Sweeping changes to Australia’s Special Forces, particularly the SASR, are now being considered by Army and the Government, following the completion of the Brereton inquiry.

Defence insiders believe the changes are aimed at breaking down systemic cultural issues within the special forces teams.

Reports emerge of alleged unlawful killings

At the same time as the IGADF has conducted its closed-door inquiry, a series of explosive reports about the conduct of troops have made very public the extent of the allegations against Australian soldiers.

Earlier this year the ABC’s Four Corners program broadcast video showing a Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) soldier shooting an unarmed Afghan man three times in the chest and head while he cowered on the ground in 2012.

Just days after the “serious and disturbing” revelations the SAS member known as “Soldier C” was suspended from duty, and the Defence Minister referred the matter to the AFP Commissioner.

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GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: A Special Air Service operator is seen shooting an unarmed Afghan man.

In 2016, Commando Kevin Frost became the first Special Forces soldier to go public with allegations of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan, including his own involvement in the unlawful execution of a prisoner of war.

Sergeant Frost, who had encouraged other members of the ADF to come forward to the IGADF inquiry, was found dead in Western Australia last year.

In September this year the Federal Court was told of a separate war crime investigation involving Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, who was decorated for his service with the SAS in Afghanistan.

Central to the allegations against the former soldier is a claim that while in Uruzgan Province in September 2012, he was involved in the murder of a handcuffed Afghan civilian named Ali Jan, who he kicked off a cliff.

Mr Roberts-Smith strenuously denies the allegations and is pursuing a defamation claim against various news outlets who published the claims in 2018.

Hundreds of secret ADF documents leaked to the ABC in 2017 detailed the clandestine operations of Australia’s elite special forces in Afghanistan, including incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children.

Two years later AFP officers raided the ABC’s Sydney headquarters over the stories known as the Afghan Files, but eventually decided that journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clarke would not be prosecuted for their reporting.

Two men in suits enter the ABC.
The AFP raided the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters in Sydney over the Afghan Files stories.(ABC News: Taryn Southcombe)

Inquiry prompted by “persistent allegations”

In 2015, then special operations commander Major General Jeff Sengleman had become concerned about rumours and persistent allegations within the notoriously secretive Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and 2nd Commando Regiment.

He commissioned Canberra-based sociologist Dr Samantha Crompvoets to write a report on Special Operations Command Culture Interactions, which then uncovered allegations of “unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations” by elite soldiers.

Major General Sengleman reported the findings to then-chief of army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, who agreed in 2016 to approach the IGADF to conduct a scoping inquiry.

Speaking at a Defence conference that year, Major General Sengleman gave an indication of the high level of operational tempo for Australia’s Special Forces during their 12 years in Afghanistan.

“Thousands of combat missions, almost half of the combat deaths, 13 per cent of my deployed force sustained physical combat injuries”.

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Twitter breach troubling, undermines trust, experts say

A breach in Twitter’s security that allowed hackers to break into the accounts of leaders and technology moguls is one of the worst attacks in recent years and may shake trust in a platform politicians and CEOs use to communicate with the public, experts said Thursday.

The ruse discovered Wednesday included bogus tweets from Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and a number of tech billionaires including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Celebrities Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, were also hacked.

Employees targeted

Hackers used social engineering to target some of Twitter’s employees and then gained access to the high-profile accounts. The attackers sent out tweets from the accounts of the public figures, offering to send $2,000 for every $1,000 sent to an anonymous Bitcoin address.

Cybersecurity experts say such a breach could have dire consequences since the attackers were tweeting from verified, globally influential accounts with millions of followers.

“If you receive a tweet from a verified account, belonging to a well-known and therefore trusted person, you can no longer assume it’s really from them,” said Michael Gazeley, managing director of cybersecurity firm Network Box.

Reacting to the breach, Twitter swiftly deleted the tweets and locked down the accounts to investigate. In the process, it prevented verified users from sending out tweets for several hours.

The company said Thursday it has taken “significant steps to limit access to internal systems and tools.”

Many celebrities, politicians and business leaders often use Twitter as a public platform to make statements. U.S. President Donald Trump, for example, regularly uses Twitter to post about national and geopolitical matters, and his account is closely followed by media, analysts and governments around the world.

Twitter faces an uphill battle in regaining people’s confidence, Gazeley said. For a start, it needs to figure out how exactly the accounts were hacked and show the vulnerabilities have been fixed, he said.

“If key employees at Twitter were tricked, that’s actually a serious cybersecurity problem in itself,” he said. “How can one of the world’s most used social media platforms have such weak security, from a human perspective?”

Serious consequences

Rachel Tobac, CEO of Socialproof Security, said that the breach appeared to be largely financially motivated. But such an attack could cause more serious consequences.

“Can you imagine if they had taken over a world leader’s account, and tweeted out a threat of violence to another country’s leader?” asked Tobac, a social engineering hacker who specializes in providing training for companies to protect themselves from such breaches.

Social engineering attacks typically target human weaknesses to exploit networks and online platforms. Companies can guard themselves against such attacks by beefing up multi-factor authentication — where users have to present multiple pieces of evidence as authentication before being allowed to log into a system, Tobac said.

Such a process could include having a physical token that an employee must have with them, on top of a password, before they can log into a corporate or other private system. Other methods include installing technical tools to monitor for suspicious insider activities and reducing the number of people who have access to an administrative panel, Tobac said.

Call for co-operation

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley called on Twitter to co-operate with authorities including the Department of Justice and the FBI to secure the site.

“I am concerned that this event may represent not merely a co-ordinated set of separate hacking incidents but rather a successful attack on the security of Twitter itself,” he said.

He added that millions of users relied on Twitter not just to send tweets but also communicate privately via direct messaging.

“A successful attack on your system’s servers represents a threat to all of your users’ privacy and data security,” said Hawley.

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