Polio Leads to Post-Polio Syndrome
My mother contracted polio in the summer of 1953. She was two months shy of her 11th birthday. She spent two agonizing months in the hospital before being transferred to the facility in Warm Springs, Georgia for a year of rehabilitation therapy. The disease caused the muscles in her legs to contract and bow the bones in her legs. During one meeting with her medical team, a doctor suggested breaking both of my mother's legs to straighten them. My grandmother wanted to know if such a procedure would help my mother walk again. When they doctor said no, my grandmother asked why, then, would they put my mother through such a painful procedure. The doctor replied that it would make the brace-maker's job easier!
My grandparents were working-class folks, but they were determined that polio would not rob my mother of the fullest life possible. I have no ide how they managed it financially, but somehow they were able to get a station wagon fitted with hand controls so my mother could learn to drive. They also managed to send her to college in Florida, over a thousand miles away from their Ohio home. Mom got her degree as a Speech Therapist from Florida State, married my dad, and promptly entered the Peace Corps. She and my dad were sent to Colombia, South America fo two years, during which time she walked and average of 12 miles a day through the mountains to help poor farmers who had relocated to the capital, Bogata.
When my parents returned to the States, my mom taught in the public schools in Indiana and then had a private practice while my brother and I were little. After we moved to Tennessee, Mom went back to school to get her Master's degree. Shortly after she began teaching in public schools in Tennessee, she got a letter from Warm Springs asking her to come in for further testing. The tests revealed that the polio virus had affected more than my mother's legs. She was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome all the way up into her left shoulder. She was told she had to leave her crutches and brace behind or risk becoming paralyzed in her left arm, as well. So, 30 years after she was first stricken, she was further limited in her mobility by being confined to her wheelchair. Even that didn't stop her. She became a college professor for several years, and then she and my father moved to Mexico for his job. She spent 13 years exploring the country with my father and giving private English lessons.
Eight years ago, my parents moved back to the U.S. after my father was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. My mother spent two years caring for him until he died. Now, five years later, she is dying, in part because of the post-polio syndrome. Yes, she has COPD, but it has been accelerated by the shutting down of the muscles in her abdomen. A year ago, at age 72, she lost the ability to have bowel movements on her own. Now, her diaphragm is failing her. I had truly hoped that she would live to see the eradication of polio in the world, but sadly, that is not to be. All I can hope is that we continue to fight to make sure no one ever has to face the challenges or suffering that she has due to a disease we have the power to destroy.