Poliomyelitis and Polio Deformities: I am a Polio Survivor
I am a Polio Survivor
When I was about seven months old in late 1954, early 1955, I was a very sick little girl. We lived in Norfolk, VA at the time because my Dad was in the Navy. It was not until about four years later when we were back in Iowa and some of my deformities began to be noticeable that I was diagnosed as a poliomyelitis (polio for short) victim. I still don’t know why I was not diagnosed while I was sick. My parents took me to all of the Navy doctors and none of them knew what was wrong with me. My parents said I was so sad and cried a lot for no apparent reason (I was too young to tell anyone I was hurting), and I had projectile vomiting. I would be in my crib and vomit but none of it would be in my bed….it ended up across the room. The doctors apparently had a hard time believing that one.
Polio is caused by:
Polio is caused by a very contagious virus called poliovirus. The poliovirus primarily affects younger children. That is why it used to be called infantile paralysis. But it can also infect older children and adults. It was most prevalent in the summer months and caused many swimming pools and other public places to be shut down. Polio is so contagious that anyone living with a recently infected person will most likely become infected too. It is transmitted through saliva and feces and is passed on when people do not wash their hands after eating or using the bathroom. Once infected with the virus, it can remain in the mouth and throat for about three weeks. It then travels to the intestine. It can remain in the intestine for up to eight weeks. In subclinical infection and non-paralytic polio, the virus usually doesn't get past the intestinal tract. But in paralytic polio, the virus leaves the intestinal tract and enters the bloodstream, attacking the nerves. The virus may affect the nerves in the muscles of your limbs and the muscles necessary for breathing, causing respiratory difficulty and paralysis of the arms and legs. Some victims ended up in an iron lung to help them breathe.
Symptoms of the Three Kinds of Polio
general discomfort or uneasiness, headache, red throat, sore throat, slight fever, vomiting
CLINICAL POLIOMYELITIS (NONPARALYTIC AND PARALYTIC)
Affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and is divided into nonparalytic and paralytic forms.
It may occur after recovery from a subclinical infection.
back pain, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, irritability, leg pain in calf muscles, moderate fever, muscle tenderness, neck pain and stiffness, pain in front part of neck, pain or stiffness of the back, arms, legs, abdomen, skin rash or lesion with pain, vomiting
Symptoms usually last 1 - 2 weeks.
abnormal sensations (but not loss of sensation) in an area, bloated feeling in abdomen, breathing difficulty, constipation, difficulty beginning to urinate, drooling, fever 5 - 7 days before other symptoms, headache, irritability or poor temper control, muscle contractions or muscle spasms in the calf, neck, or back, muscle pain, muscle weakness, asymmetrical (only on one side or worse on one side), sensitivity to touch; mild touch may be painful, stiff neck and back, swallowing difficulty, paralysis
- Anterior Cruciate Ligament: My ACL Injury and Reconstruction
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the major stabilizing ligament of the knee. The ACL is located in the center of the knee joint and runs from the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). This is an...
Foot and leg deformities are associated with paralytic polio. These include scoliosis, improper posture, uneven leg length, stunted growth of the pelvis, pain in the neck, back hip, knee or foot due to uneven growth, flat feet, flaccid feet, high arch (cavus foot), over pronation (the foot's tendency to roll in towards the body when we walk), mismatched feet, calluses, bunions, corns, hammertoe and claw toe. Since I have deformities, I’m guessing I had this kind. If I had any paralysis, it must have gone unnoticed since I wasn’t walking yet. But I did start walking at nine months. So it didn’t keep me down long. I do have scoliosis, but not bad enough for them to have operated to fix it, although I had a great deal of back pain when I was a kid. I have uneven leg lengths; my right leg is shorter than the left one. When I was about 12 they put some metal staples in my left knee to stunt the growth of that leg so the right leg, which was an inch shorter, could catch up. After a year they were the same length and they took the staples back out again. I was so happy I didn’t have to build my shoe up on the right side anymore. The only shoes available to me to be built up back then were black and white saddle shoes. They were not in style either. Every time I needed new shoes I would always ask if there was anything else that could be built up and it was always a no. I cried every time I had to go. Until one glorious day when the answer was yes….a nice soft brown pair of Hush Puppies! I cried again, only this time it was tears of joy! In my late twenties I had some right hip pain so I went to the doctor and found out I had grown 5/8ths of an inch, but only my left leg grew. So I was back to the buildups on the right shoe. I recently have been able to cut that down to 3/8” and I use a heel lift inside my shoe so no more buildups….again! It makes it much easier to find shoes. I still have to wear a shoe that ties in a wide width which is a little hard to find, especially in a size 6. My right foot is 2” shorter than the left and all of the toes sit up on top of the foot. So I have learned to balance without my toes touching the ground. My whole right side from waist to foot is smaller than the other side, but it is not too noticeable and it can be disguised somewhat with loose fitting clothing. When I was five years old, I had surgery to take a tendon from the left side of my right leg and put it down the front of the leg where there was none. So my foot and ankle roll to the right when I walk which puts a lot of stress on my knee. It probably contributed to the ACL blowout I had when I was in college. Consequently, I have a lot of osteoarthritis in that knee. All of my damage occurred on the right side of my body.
At the height of the polio epidemic in 1952, 60,000 cases with more than 3,000 deaths were reported in the United States alone. The average number of cases fell to 570 cases for the years 1961 through 1965. Polio is now a rare disease in the United States. Many doctors have never seen a case of polio…thanks to the vaccines of Salk and Sabin. The Salk vaccine contains dead polioviruses. It is injected just under the skin. The dead viruses cause the immune system to start making antibodies against the poliovirus. If a person is infected with the poliovirus later in life, the immune system can protect the body against the disease. His vaccine was first distributed in 1955, but not widely until 1956 – too late for me. The Sabin vaccine is an oral vaccine which contains polioviruses that are very weak but not dead. They produce the same effect on the immune system as dead viruses. Sabin’s vaccine was not in use until 1962. Both vaccines are very effective in preventing polio. In fact, some public-health experts think the disease may be completely wiped out in the next decade, though currently it is still prevalent in Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Nigeria, and Pakistan. I remember receiving the polio shot. I still had to have one because there are 3 strains of the virus. It was injected into the buttocks. But I never minded it because I knew what polio could do to you. Later, after Sabin’s vaccine was introduced, we were given a sugar cube soaked in the vaccine.
Post Polio Syndrome
As if getting polio is not enough, many polio survivors may develop fatigue, muscle and joint pain 10 to 40 years after having polio. Post Polio Syndrome is a condition that progresses slowly and seems to hit harder in cases that had more severe polio. Since it progresses so slowly it is often hard to diagnose. It is not polio all over again nor is it contagious. Not much is known about PPS. They don’t know what causes it or how to prevent it. Or even how to treat it. It is a very mysterious condition. I have some of these symptoms but I have never been formally diagnosed with PPS.
According to estimates by the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 440,000 polio survivors in the United States may be at risk for PPS.
FDR’s Role in Polio Research
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President from 1932 to 1945, was very instrumental in finding funding for the vaccine research. He was a polio survivor too. He contracted the disease in 1921 at the age of 39, older than most polio victims. (Some medical professionals today doubt that diagnosis was correct. It doesn’t matter if it was polio or not. He believed it was and made it his cause.) He wore heavy steel braces on his legs and walking was difficult for him. Most of his time was spent in a wheelchair. He concealed his disability so well that millions of Americans never knew he was a paraplegic in a wheelchair. He also had a deal with the media to never show him in his wheelchair. I doubt any president today could talk the media into that kind of agreement. He founded the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, a hydrotherapy center for polio victims which later became the Roosevelt Institute for Rehabilitation.
March of Dimes
In 1937, after FDR was already president, Roosevelt established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Comedian Eddie Cantor suggested a plan to help raise money for the foundation, whose goal was to provide care to polio victims and to support research. They called it the March of Dimes and asked that everyone send a dime for polio research to the president. The dimes poured into the White House, and in 1938, the March of Dimes made its first research grant to Yale University. By 1955, the year the Salk vaccine was declared safe and effective, the March of Dimes had invested $25.5 million in research. Although Roosevelt did not live to see the vaccine, he and the March of Dimes were so closely associated that the U.S. Congress honored his memory by putting his face on the dime. The government released the first Roosevelt dimes on January 30, 1946, FDR's birthday and the start of the annual March of Dimes campaign. The March of Dimes is the organization that helped my parents pay for all of the corrective surgeries I had as a child.
Born Just a Little Too Early
We have succeeded in almost wiping out a disease that discriminated against children. Even though I was unlucky enough to have contracted polio, I still consider myself lucky. I could have died or been stuck in an iron lung to help me breathe. Many people have worse deformities than I do. It actually helped build my character. If I was told I couldn’t do something, it just made me more determined to prove them wrong…and I usually did. It also made me more compassionate and understanding of people with disabilities.
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