Polio: ‘At one stage I thought I was having a stroke’

Case studies: People suffering from polio share their stories living with the disease

From the age of 18 months, Barbara Chadwick spent four years in hospital: ‘My mother told me it was very difficult to integrate me back into the family’. Photograph: Patrick Browne

From the age of 18 months, Barbara Chadwick spent four years in hospital: ‘My mother told me it was very difficult to integrate me back into the family’. Photograph: Patrick Browne

 

Barbara Chadwick (69) from Avondale in Waterford was diagnosed with polio in 1949 having never been vaccinated for the disease.

“I contracted polio at the age of 18 months and I spent the following four years in the fever hospital in Waterford,” Ms Chadwick said.

“When I came out of hospital people thought my mother had adopted me because nobody saw me for four years. My mother told me it was very difficult to integrate me back into the family.”

Ms Chadwick attended check-ups at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London throughout her childhood after an aunt recommended the polio clinic there. She was fitted with a caliper on her right leg which was removed when she turned 15.

“I was fine then and led a very full life, held down a job, walked everywhere, married, had two lovely sons and then in my mid 50s I started getting weakness in my right side that was affected by polio,” she said.

“It got to the stage where sometimes I would fall for no reason, at one stage I thought I was having a stroke because of the weaknesses in my arm and my leg. Then it was discovered that it was post polio syndrome.

You have weakness, you have tiredness, your concentration is gone. You have no quality of life

“It’s an awful kick in the teeth after dealing with it so well for so long, to just come to the stage where my mobility is gone. I have no independence.

“I drove a car for years, now I’m relying on people if I want to go anywhere. Somebody has to bring me, somebody has to be there. It’s awful for your self-confidence.”

Ms Chadwick, who previously worked as a clerical worker and shop manager, said the condition means she has no quality of life.

“I know polio is eradicated but we’re after getting the sting in the tail of it. The polio is not back but the symptoms are there,” she said.

“You have weakness, you have tiredness, your concentration is gone. You have no quality of life.”

‘I started thinking I was cured’

Lorraine Harte, aged in her early fifties, from Kilbarrack in north Dublin was diagnosed with polio as a young child despite being vaccinated. She was fitted with a caliper on her right leg until the age of 12.

She received treatment at the National Children’s Hospital on Harcourt Street and Dr Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin 8.

“I never stayed in the hospital for a long period of time like other polio survivors that would be there for months on end. It was not like that for me,” she said.

I did most things able-bodied people could do; cycling, skating, walking. Then in my late 30s I started noticing the late effects

“I was very fortunate in that I was mostly an outpatient, except initially when I started presenting symptoms.”

After undergoing surgery the caliper was removed, leaving Ms Harte with the belief that she was “cured”.

“I was able to put my foot on the ground. My leg was a lot better than it had been and of course I started thinking I was cured then,” she said.

“I had a slight limp, you wouldn’t have even known that I had polio. Few people knew that I had had polio.

“I did most things able-bodied people could do; cycling, skating, walking. Then in my late 30s I started noticing the late effects and I was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome in my 40s.”

Ms Harte, who previously worked in the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf, is now forced to wear a brace on both her legs, despite previously never having any problems with her left leg.

“[The effects] gradually came over me. I started cycling to and from work instead of walking.

“Then I found that I hadn’t got the energy and the legs weren’t able to cycle that far any more. You start noticing the fatigue and the tiredness all over,” she said.

“Then I stopped on the bike and I started getting the bus to work. At the end of the day of work, I would be shattered. The end result was that I’d have to get a lift home or the bus.

“I couldn’t even stand at the bus stop. I’d have to sit at the wall because my legs would be so tired.”

Ms Harte said her goal is to continue to live “as independently as possible” while other polio survivors have been “a rock of support”.