Meet Gertrude Mensch and hear her ISPO Memories!


Throughout my career as a physiotherapist, I was employed at the Henderson General Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. I thoroughly enjoyed what I did.

Please realize that I date back to a time when “my” hospital owned 3 pigs (1956). They were cared for by a nearby farmer and were fed by left over hospital food. Times have changed!

In 1960, shortly after I was appointed to be the Physiotherapy Department Head, Dr. Angus MacMillan, Orthopaedic surgeon, established the “Regional Amputation Rehabilitation Assessment Clinic”. It was located in Henderson General Hospital’s Physiotherapy Department where meetings were held once a week. Surgical procedures were done at the Hamilton General Hospital. Amputation rehabilitation was the responsibility of the Henderson Hospital while prosthetic and orthotic services were provided at the nearby Chedoke Hospital, whose prosthetist attended our weekly  assessment meetings. Everything was spread out, but times demanded team work. Team work was “in”!

In the same year -1960 – my hospital administration sent me to New York’s University’s Post-Graduate Medical School to attend  a 2 week long intense Amputation Rehabilitation Team course. We had to learn what our team partners did, how we should  work together and how the amputee feels. At its conclusion, there was an exam and the results sent to my hospital administrator.  I reported my successful experience to Dr, Angus MacMillan. As a result, the Henderson Hospital started in-service staff education. I was suddenly  responsible for in-service staff education in the rehab sector. A few times I was “loaned out” to Northern Hospitals. My fondest memory is a trip to Haileybury.
The town had a silver mine and their hospital gave me a treat to go down to see silver mining. The elevator was a narrow wooden box shaking down slowly until it came to a bumpy stop. A small underground rail system brought my guide and me to a dimly lit area where the miners worked. This experience resulted in my greatest respect for the miners working for hours underground.

To keep up with the advancements of prosthetics I attended several National Prosthetic conventions. All prosthetists – in those years only men- were most helpful in explaining the technical and mechanical workings of new components (eg. knee joints). What I learned during these presentations and discussions was key, since it directly impacts gait patterns and gait analysis.

My next great surprise came in 1974. I had submitted a paper to ISPO’s first World Congress scheduled to be held in Montreux / Switzerland and it was accepted. But the surprise was an invitation to also attend the preceding ISPO Workshop to be held in Les Diablerets, a beautiful ski resort in the mountains near Montreux. It was a fact finding workshop, investigating the number of amputees; types disabled persons worldwide; the type of help they could receive and ideas of how ISPO could provide help. I was delighted! My employer gave approval to attend this event. The group of approximately 30  people I met there was an international mix – all kind, knowledgeable and caring. I learned more from them than I could contribute. I was hooked,. I signed up to become an ISPO member. 

Back home I took on the responsibilities of secretary for ISPO in Canada. I received guidance from ISPO‘S Head office in Copenhagen and Cliff Chadderton, CEO of the War Amputees of Canada.
Slowly our membership increased. During 1979 I was elected to represent Canada on ISPO’s International Executive Board. I accepted with joy. My 3 year term started in 1980. Board meetings were held twice yearly, mostly in Copenhagen. Each board member represented a different country. In 1983 I received the honour of ISPO Fellowship and remained on the Board for a second term until 1986. Education for developing countries was a prime objective, Member country reports were studied and our report to the World Health Organization was prepared. We often had some homework.

I was fortunate enough to meet Terry Fox. He stopped in Hamilton on his cross country run. He was a determined young man, who lost his leg above the knee due to bone cancer. He found his running pattern tiring. He had to take an extra hop with his sound leg to permit his prosthesis to swing forward to achieve heel contact. He thought of getting a spring mechanism below his artificial knee to excel his prosthesis to swing forward faster after toe off. That thought was the beginning of the development of a running prosthesis for otherwise healthy above knee amputees.

I was asked what impact ISPO had on assessing Assistive Devices and Rehabilitation Services. My answer is threefold.
1) The ISPO journal publishes research papers, a calendar of upcoming courses and events as well as book reviews. Since ISPO’s membership is multi- disciplinary, a large group of rehabilitation workers, not only prosthetists and orthotists, receive updated information. This large membership group is therefore able to help, advise and refer physically disabled clients to get help for their specific needs.
2. ISPO is holding regular World Congresses in different parts of the world and always offers advanced courses at the same time for which members can sign up. That increases the knowledge base of the membership
3. Needs of supportive and corrective devices differ from country to country. Some have access to Research and Development, others do not. ISPO is sending experts to developing countries to help to develop simple, yet useful devices. Just one example: ISPO member Prof. Dr. R. Baumgartner from Switzerland traveled regularly to the Sudan and other African countries. He sent me a picture of a foot amputee using a large hook strapped to his lower leg and used both hands and legs  to walk up a tree trunk to harvest coconuts. He could keep his job.

These factors combined have increased our membership greatly, and with it better services to users of all P and O devises. This worldwide betterment cannot be measured in numbers as satisfaction is subjective. But ISPO has most certainly greatly improved awareness, guidance and help. After all, ISPO has been chosen to report regularly to the World Health Organization.

In a nutshell, I have worked with lower extremity amputees using a peg leg and also with amputees who were treated with the below-knee instant prosthetic fitting technic. A plaster cast was applied directly after a below knee amputation to prevent stump swelling, and a gait attachment device was available for immediate controlled weight bearing in early ambulation ( Dr. Burgess method). In later years computer aided socket  designs were used (CAD-CAM ) for A/K socket fabrication and also flexible sockets were introduced.

I was also asked what kind of advice I would like to give to a new graduate. The answer is simple:  Keep on learning. No one can take away from you what you have learned. Also join your professional association. It guides, advises and helps you and keep up standards. It is your partner.

Then I was asked what I considered to be my greatest achievement.  No doubt my publications. Papers in different journals, chapters in books published by Dr. S. Banerjee, by Dr. Basmajian, and by Prof. Dr. R Baumgartner.  My own book published entitled “ Physical Therapy Management of Lower Extremity Amputations” was published in 1987 by Aspen Publishers. Inc.. The book took 3 years to write, but all the effort was worth it. I received an Honorable Award from the American Medical Writers Association at their 1987 Chicago Convention. My husband Gunter and I  attended the Awards Ceremony. I was very pleased.  Later Dan Blocka (ISPO member) converted the entire text into PDF. My friend and colleague  Patty Ellis-Idenouye was my co-author and I thank her dearly for all her insightful help. I retired on June 30, 1988.

That gave Gunter, a retired dentist, and myself time to enjoy longer winter vacations which we spent on Glovers Reef, an atoll in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Belize. After a hurricane destroyed this lovely place, we vacationed on the island of Bonaire. Gunter enjoyed scuba diving and I loved snorkelling. We both like reading. We rented an ocean cottage , had our own water entrance with a coral reef right there. A boat which took divers out to sea in the morning was nearby . We cooked for ourselves and shopped at the vegetable boat which came twice weekly from Venezuela . In the afternoon Gunter would say: “Come let’s go in the water to visit our fishes.” And then we snorkelled together.  Gunter passed away in 2011.  I am very thankful that we could be together for 62 years. I have a loving family and now live near them in Lincoln Park, a Senior Residence in Grimsby, Ontario . Zoe my great-granddaughter is the sunshine of my life.

Gertrude Mensch, MCPA