It all started in 1957 when my mom, Mary Louise Kerr (Smyth), was chosen for a summer intern position at Lyndhurst, located at 51 Lyndhurst Avenue, near Casa Loma.
The following year she graduated from the University of Toronto with a diploma in occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Back then the OT/PT program was a combined three-year course. My mom’s class started with 68 students, but only about 42 graduated. They were all women.
She really enjoyed her intern position, so after graduating, at the age of 20 years old, Mary Lou applied for a full-time job. She was hired right away as a staff physiotherapist.
At the time there were no OTs at Lyndhurst but there was a significant job overlap between OT and PT and Mary Lou was glad to have the OT training. She was assigned to 5 or 6 patients at a time and worked with them on a daily basis. One of her memorable accomplishments was starting a writing class for patients with quadriplegia. Using the splints designed for eating, Mary Lou attached a pencil to it and was able to teach her patients to write again.
Jack Nutt was one of Mary Lou’s favourite patients. They still stay in touch so I reached out to Jack to ask him his story and memories from his time at Lyndhurst. I was amazed at the clarity of his memories from 60 years ago. The stories he told me of his journey, his time at Lyndhurst, of working with my mom and the other staff was like he was talking about yesterday.
On June 21, 1959, 17-year-old Jack and his friend Barry Blackman went swimming in a river near St. Mary’s outside of London, Ontario. They were with some girls that they’d just met. Jack, trying to impress them, dove into the shallow river and hit the bottom. He sustained a partial lesion of his neck.
Even though it was a long way from their home in St. Mary’s, his parents decided to send him to Lyndhurst because it had a great reputation for helping patients with spinal cord injuries. Looking back now, he is very grateful they made that choice.
When he arrived at Lyndhurst he was “the first young guy” there. Jack said the other patients at the time were older, some of them lumberjacks and industrial workers who were injured on the job.
Participation was essential at Lyndhurst. There was an unwritten rule that patients had to attend classes or they would be asked to leave. This was fine with Jack. He arrived motivated and ready to work, especially when he found out that the cafeteria was the only place meals were served; in order to eat, Jack needed to figure out how to get there.
After breakfast, Jack’s typical morning schedule had him starting with Mary Lou, working on his leg muscles. Then he had math class with George White. George was a retired army guy that Jack describes as “always yelling, but never angry.” After that, it was back to physio with my mom to “work every muscle in my arm and fingers.”
Jack told me about chair class which was also with George White. When the weather co-operated the class was held outside on the tennis court. Jack remembers George standing off to the side with his whip (think Indiana Jones) and snapping and cracking it to help motivate his students. One time a neighbour called the police thinking that people were being disciplined but it was all just for show and the matter was settled quickly.
Another of Mary Lou’s favourite patients was Gaston Herbert. He was one of the “older lumberjacks” that Jack remembered earlier. Mary Lou also stayed in touch with Gaston and I recall going with her to visit him just after he’d purchased a new full size accessible van. Gaston didn’t drive himself so the driver controls were not modified. He relied on others to drive it for him and that included Mary Lou. Gaston was very excited to show off his brand new van and we all got in with Gaston riding shotgun and went for a drive. I’m pretty sure that was the first time my mom had driven a full-size van!
Mary Lou worked at the original Lyndhurst location until 1960 when she had an opportunity to go to the Rome Olympics. Although she was an accomplished tennis player, she went to Rome as a spectator, not an athlete.
In 1978, a part-time physio position became available at Lyndhurst, now located at 520 Sutherland Drive, and my mom was excited to come back. I was 6 years old at that time and my sister and brother were 10 and 11 years old, respectively. My Aunt Jeane (I’ve mentioned her a few times in my earlier articles) was volunteering as a teacher in the Lyndhurst classroom at the time and put a good word in for her.
I asked my mom if there were any differences being a physio in 1958 vs. 1978 and she told me a lot had changed. Physios in 1978 were given a lot more discretion to treat their patients. It was no longer necessary to get her supervisors’ approval to change aspects of treatment. Mary Lou worked primarily in the therapy pool until 1982.
My mom made a lot of lifelong friends from her time at Lyndhurst, and positively impacted a lot of people. One of the first things Jack Nutt said to me was “I credit your mom with giving me 60 years of independence.” It was a very powerful statement and I can’t think of any higher praise for the work that my mother did.
Jeffrey Kerr, Broker, Barrier Free Real Estate Specialist
RE/MAX Unique Inc., Brokerage