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Survivor Stories

Do you know a survivor's story? If so, we'd like to tell it on this site in honour of these courageous people who inspire the rest of us to have a crack. Please send your stories via the eMail links provided .......................

Survivor Stories

There are parallels in the life stories of many courageous people. This page is dedicated in honour of survivors - to record their stories of fighting back against their tough life challenges. We've started with the stories of Christopher Reeve, Lance Armstrong and W. Mitchell. If you know someone you'd like to honour by telling their story of courage and survival, then please summarise their story in 300 words or less, email it to us, and we'll add it to this site beside the names of these other celebrities - to help inspire the rest of us.

Survivor Stories

Christopher Reeve

Both Jim and Christopher were highly independent, passionate men; super star entertainers in their fields in their day, who had achieved more success than most of us could only ever dream of. With young families to provide for (both had 3 kids) they had their career, their fame and their livelihood torn away through disability so severe they were paralysed, and required respirators for life support - leaving them highly dependent on others. Both had determination in buckets full and a tremendously high work ethic towards their rehab – they were use to working hard and pushed their careers to the limits. And both fought back to escape the prison of the respirator, and went on to lead highly productive lives in the service of others - through charitable fund raising, disability awareness, and using their celebrity status as a springboard to mount political and social campaigns (both were anti-war protesters).

For both men, their personal tragedy seemed only to spur them to greater achievement and tremendous personal growth and insight – turning personal tragedy into public riches. Christopher reflected on his future after his accident saying “well, here is the hand you have been dealt – now, what do you want to do with it”. Well he did plenty, including creating a fund to provide “Quality of Life” grants to help care for people with spinal cord injury. Jim on the other hand created the “Quality of Life” Association, to help care for his community by changing antediluvian social policy thinking on such issues as sexuality, nudity, tobacco use, to name a few.

Christopher and Jim have both left behind a legacy of hope and inspiration for millions – a footprint for others to follow. They have been successful advocates for social improvement and as a result, catalysts for social change. They have been great symbols of courage to us all. And they have both proven that we humans are only limited by our thinking - nothing is impossible.

Christopher commented that "When the first Superman movie came out I was frequently asked 'What is a hero?' I remember the glib response I repeated so many times. My answer was that a hero is someone who commits a courageous action without considering the consequences--a soldier who crawls out of a foxhole to drag an injured buddy to safety. And I also meant individuals who are slightly larger than life: Houdini and Lindbergh, John Wayne, JFK, and Joe DiMaggio. Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

Survivor - Lance ArmstrongLance Armstrong

Parallels also exist to the life story of 7 time 'Tour de France' champion, Lance Armstrong.

In 1996, Lance Armstrong was one of the world's best cyclists. Aged 25 he was however diagnosed with testicular cancer despite being fit and healthy, and also at the top of his game. Doctors gave him a less than 20% chance of survival and his professional riding career was (in their assessment) certainly over. But Lance never thought of giving up, and decided he'd do whatever was needed to fight back - thus he became a survivor with a positive attitude, not a victim. In remission, Lance went on to win one of the worlds most grueling cycling races, the 'Tour de France" - not once but on 7 consecutive occasions. He also decided to serve the community by courageously sharing his story publicly. He also used his celebrity status to raise community awareness which led to the creation of The Lance Armstrong Foundation and the "Tour of Hope".

More information (including a neat summary of Lance's story) is included on the Lance Armstrong Foundation LiveStrong website.

W. Mitchell

In his autobiography, Jim Stynes, a famous Australian football brownlow medallist, tells how the life story of Mitchell has been 'utterly inspiring' to him.

Mitchell was in a road accident and suffered burns to 65% of his body. He fought back from a normally fatal situation, although his fingers were amputated, and friends passed out, at the sight of his disfigured face. As Stynes recalls "Many victims of burns this severe do not survive, partly through losing the will to live". But Mitchell pulled his life back together, becoming a successful businessman of a multimillion dollar company, only to face the nightmare of a light aircraft crash which left him a paraplegic. Again he fought back, to continue as a successful businessman,and to become mayor of a town in Colorado, and a candidate for the US Senate. Stynes shares with us that "Mitchell's slogan for life is summed up in one sentence: 'It's not what happens to you - It's what you do about it.' ", which became the title of his latest book.

On his web site, W. Mitchell (now an author and an inspirational speaker) comments that "Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do, now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I've lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left." Mitchell implores people who are facing their life's challenges to "climb out of mental wheelchairs', to 'break out of the prisons of the mind", and 'to comeback - even against overwhelming odds' by putting yourself back in charge by taking responsibility for change to find your life's possibilities.

Australian Polio Survivor Stories

The Polio Network provides some amazing life stories of individual heros who, like Jim, survived polio - many having contracted polio as infants. Click here to view these stories.

Noel Spurr, OAM

In 1956, Noel Spurr contracted polio in the last polio epidemic in Victoria, Australia - he was just 8 years of age. He became totally paralysed and was put into an "iron lung" full time at Fairfield Hospital for over 12 months. Eventually, he was able to go home, although still needing to use an "iron lung" respirator at home every night, until he was able once again not to need a respirator. However, following pneumonia in 1972, Noel again needed to use an iron lung every night. In 1989, he was able to move to a portable positive pressure ventilator.

Despite these post-polio life challenges, Noel, like Jim, has gone on to lead a very busy, productive and valuable life which saw him honoured with the "Advance Australia Award" and the "Order of Australia Medal" for his distinguished work both as a leader of the disabled rights movement and his participation in local and state-wide community groups over 30+years. This work has seen him appointed by both sides of Australian politics (Liberal & ALP Governments) to Ministerial Advisory Committee's for over 25 years at both State & Federal levels.

After contracting polio, Noel went to a special school for disabled kids in Melbourne - called Yooralla. He went on to attend a local high school (Nunawading High) for three years. In 1964, he volunteered for risky experimental spinal surgery – operations that provided him with some additional physical movement. Whilst recuperating from surgery, Noel resumed schooling at Yooralla - this started a long time association between Noel and Yooralla, leading to him taking on the role as Chairman of Yooralla’s 2000 & 2006 Reunions.

Noel has worked in private enterprise, the public service, and as a private consultant. This work included, serving 9 years as a local Councillor at Nunawading and Whitehorse City Councils, including terms as Deputy Mayor and Mayor. Noel was in fact the last Mayor of the City of Nunawading, prior to local council amalgamations. Following completion of the Boardstep Company Directors Course, Noel has also served on Company Boards. Amongst other activities, Noel is also an inSPURRational speaker and MC at conferences and seminars.

Noel has two children and is now also the proud grandfather of 2 young children.

More information about this amazing survivor can be found on his web site at www.noelspurr.com.

Ms. Elizabeth Hastings

Elizabeth Hastings contracted polio as a child and attended Yooralla Hospital School for several years. She appeared in the film "A chance for a lifetime" for the first GTV9 Yooralla telethon in 1959.

She later graduated as a Psychologist, and in 1981 served on the State Committee for International Year for Disabled Persons.

Elizabeth was the Disability Discrimination Commissioner of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) from 1993 to 1997 and was the first specialist Commissioner appointed under the Disability Discrimination Act. Ms Hastings was also a Commissioner of the original Human Rights Commission.

Ms Hastings made a significant contribution to protecting people with disabilities from discrimination. Ms Hastings developed in the community, greater understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities.

The many gains made by Ms Hastings included the development of guidelines and standards ensuring protection from discrimination for people with disabilities. In particular, Ms Hastings was very active in working with the disability community and employer groups to develop guidelines and standards in relation to employment for people with a disability.

Ms Hastings was active in raising awareness of the conditions facing children with disabilities in institutions and of the unacceptably high level of sterilisation of young women with disabilities.

Elizabeth Hastings died from cancer in 1998, but her achievements are being built on, to ensure that people with disabilities are accepted as equal participants and contributors to Australian society.

Greg Poynton

Greg contracted polio as a child in Geelong. He appeared in the 1959 Yooralla telethon film "A Chance for a Lifetime", as one of those that badly needed Yooralla but where there were not enough rooms to accommodate him.

After the huge success of the telethon, Yooralla expanded at Balwyn. Greg then attended Yooralla Hospital School and lived in the hostel.

Greg was a quadriplegic from polio, and his breathing became progressively worse, and as an adult he eventually needed to live full time in the famous “Iron Lung Ward 12” at Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital in Melbourne.

Greg was determined to overcome his severe disability and live a full life. He was active in disabled rights, including as a founding member of A.L.P.H.A. and the “Ward 12” Residents committee.

In the Ward, Greg also set up a business selling cosmetics. He had a ready market with all the female staff, in particular those who lived in the Nurses Home just behind Ward 12, plus also with visitors to the ward for the other patients.

One of those nurses, Dianne, fell in love with Greg and they married. They moved into their own home, where Dianne cared for him full time. They have a teenage son named Zac.

Greg died in recent years from a chest infection.

June Middleton

In 1949, whilst preparing for what should have been one of the happiest occasions in her life - her wedding - June contracted polio, which left her completely paralysed. Jim and June were fellow ‘inmates’ together at Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital. Whilst Jim escaped, June has spent the rest of her life living in the iron-lung life-support system – recognised on 2nd February, 2007 by Guinness World Records as a world record for the longest time spent in an iron-lung . In June 2006, her 80th birthday was celebrated in interview with Kerry O’Brien & Mick Bunworth of the 7.30 Report on ABC television. Her character shone through in this story, illuminating the attitudes and humour that has enabled her to adjust and cope with her life challenge. Listen to her – 57 years in an iron lung and her summary, “that’s one of those things that happen and you have to make the best of it”. Kerry sums up the interview with a sharp word for the rest of us when he says, “Gives a whole new meaning to doing it tough, doesn't it?” As an admittedly one-eyed parochial Melbourne Demons supporter, all I can say is ‘Go Blues!’

Click here to read transcript of the 7.30 Report interview - it’s a brief and an inspiring read.


Click here for news report - "Iron Will". Immunize the kids, says world's longest iron lung patient June Middleton (Australia, 2007)


Anne Brunell (courtesy Herald Sun 08.03.07)

Anne Brunell is a skateboarder with a difference.

When pregnancy made it impossible for this paralympian and mother of two to wear her artificial legs, she relied on her trusty skateboard to get around. Despite being born without lower legs, Ms. Brunell has made the most of every opportunity with vigour, passion and ma laugh.

Today, she will be one of 30 women inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women by Women's Affairs Minister Jacinta Allan to commemorate International Women's Day.

Ms. Brunell was a ward of the state until she was four after being given up for adoption by her birth parents. Overcoming such challenges, she was the youngest competitor at the 1984 International Disabled Games in New York, where she won a bronze medal. She went on to win silver at the Seoul Paralympic Games and three gold and one bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

But her other credits include public speaking, volunteering and being a mother to Declan, 7, and Flynn, 4.

:I've worn artificial legs strapped to my waist since I was two years old - I've never known any different," Ms. Brunell said. "So it was pretty interesting when I was pregnant and had to get around using my skateboard. Being told I couldn't succeed just spurred me on - life is there to grasp and do something with....."

Vivian Bullwinkle

During World War 2, H. M. S. Vyner Brooke sailed from Singapore with 64 Australian nursing sisters amongst its 192 evacuees. On entering In the Banka Straits the ship was attacked by Japanese planes - the ship was was hit repeatedly. The Bridge was totally destroyed, and the steering stopped operating. On fire, the Captain gave orders for the ship to be abandoned. Twenty minutes later the ship sank. Most of the survivors who had spent all afternoon and night in the water, landed on a beach near Muntok where they set up a camp and commenced tending the wounded. A couple of days later they were discovered by a Japanese patrol. Those that could walk were marched round a small headland, lined up and shot - those lying wounded were bayoneted to death. Just one survived the bayoneting. The nurses were then ordered to walk into the sea, on reaching waist height the Japanese commenced to machine gun them and all were killed save one......Sister Vivien Bullwinkle, who was shot through the throat. Vivien said in a later interview that she lay floating for what seemed hours before raising her head to find the beach deserted - save for her dead comrades floating around her and those that had already died on the beach. She was taken to a prisoner of war camp - barely alive and suffering from sun and sea exposure - her chances of survival were very slim. Sun blisters, meant her mouth was completely closed and doctors fed her through a small opening at the corner of her mouth by means of a small glass dropper. After recovering Vivien was able to relate to others what had actually happened on the beach but was ordered to stay silent for her own safety - the Japanese certainly wouldn't have allowed the only surviving eye witness of this massacre to go on living. Vivien survived the War, and was able to tell her story to the War crimes tribunal.

Vivien Bullwinkle became a Matron, supporting the long term polio residents laying in their respirators in Fairfield Hospital's Ward 12. As a WW2 POW, Vivien knew what long term captivity meant and how important hope and motivation were to the inmates - lessons she put to good use in Ward 12, which was quite unique in supporting their residents aspirations to lead productive lives by allowing them to run businesses and many fund raising efforts.

More Survivor Stories:
Visit The Resiliency Centre (USA)


(Author Unknown)

When things go wrong,
as they sometimes will;
When the road you're trudging
seems all uphill;
When the funds are low,
and the debts are high;
And you want to smile,
but have to sigh;
When care is pressing
you down a bit
Rest if you must,
but don't you quit.
Success is failure
turned inside out;
The silver tint
of the clouds of doubt;
And you can never tell
how close you are;
It may be near
when it seems so afar.
So, stick to the fight
when you're hardest hit -
It's when things go wrong
that you mustn't quit.

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