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Whatever Happened to Polio? home page
Subsections of How Polio Changed Us are Disabilty RightsSocial EffectsScientific and Medical Legacy March of DimesFranklin D. Roosevelt The Medical WorldRehabilitationAssistive DevicesThe Iron Lung and Other Equipment
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How Polio Changed Us, Rehabilitation

Quote. When I first contracted polio, except for my arms, hands, and neck muscles, I seemed to have paralysis all over my bodyÖ. My taste buds were affected; my eyes refused to focus correctly; my mind wandered; and lung muscles were also stricken. At the end of six weeks, I lifted my head off the pillow and was able to sneeze slightly. Three weeks [later] I managed to turn myself on my side. By this time I was able to carry on a conversation without running out of breath. In December, my feet returned for the most part to a normal condition. End quote. Mrs. V. A. Pahl, 1940s

For the majority of patients, the paralysis, breathing difficulties, and other symptoms of the acute phase of polio were a temporary condition.

“I had longed to come home but now that I was there, it wasn’t much fun. Home wasn’t the same if I couldn’t sleep in my own bedroom or use the bathroom by myself…. I felt like a stranger in those familiar rooms.”
—Peg Kehret, 1996

Photo of a large group of kids
Birthday party for Edna Hindson (left on bed), at Hope Haven Hospital, Florida, 1946 Courtesy of Edna Hindson and Julie Silver

Rehabilitation Hospitals

“Our common experiences of pain and paralysis, separation from our loved ones, and an unending struggle to regain the full use of our bodies made us members of an elite sorority that outsiders could never join. The success of one member became the success of all.”
—Peg Kehret, 1996

Left photo. Kids exercising in hospital beds with their mothers looking on
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Right photo. Therapist with a patient in a swimming pool
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Left: Teenagers exercising on beds, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1949 Courtesy of Dr. W. H. Groves Latter-Day Saints Hospital
Right: Water therapy at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, 1946 Courtesy of March of Dimes

“Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker, and members of Congress, I hope that you will pardon me for the unusual posture of sitting down during the presentation of what I want to say, but I know that you will realize it makes it a lot easier for me in not having to carry about ten pounds of steel on the bottom of my legs.”
—President Franklin Roosevelt, March 2, 1945, the opening words of his last speech to Congress

“[Some] equipment is actually used for muscle substitution. The orthopedic corset is a back-and-stomach substitute. It keeps the huge and heavy upper torso and head from grinding down with all that weight on the relatively frail backbone. Long and short leg braces are metal bones strapped with leather to substitute for quadriceps, hamstrings, tibia, and gastrocnemius. Missing muscles are remade of aluminum and leather.”
—Lorenzo Wilson Milam, 1984

Left photo. Three-year-old Joy Weeber standing in front of a house with leg braces and crutches
Right photo. Toddler's canvas corset
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Left: Three-year-old Joy Weeber, 1959 Courtesy of Joy Weeber
Right: Toddler’s corset worn by Joy Weeber, around 1959 Courtesy of Joy Weeber

“I cried when they took away my wheelchair at 3 but my mother said it only took three walking lessons on crutches and I was gone…. I ran with all the neighborhood kids on the mountain and hit anyone who said I was crippled with my crutch.”
—Joy Weeber, 2004

Left photo. Double leg braces
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Right photo. A spine supporting Milwaukee brace
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Left: Double leg braces custom-made for Jean Csaposs 1931 Courtesy of Jean Csaposs
Right: Milwaukee brace, used to support the spine

“My braces were built. Steel down both legs from hip to heel outside, from groin to heel inside, running down into the shoes, bound round the thigh and calf with stiff leather cases. Locks at the knees but nothing resembling a joint. It was stand stiff-legged or don’t stand. They weighed, shoes and all, ten pounds…. Then the crutches. If I were to move it would have to be by the power of my shoulders and my triceps … and the hands grasping the holds of the crutches.”
—Jim Marugg, 1954

Post-Polio Syndrome
Polio’s adverse influence continues to be felt by many of the people who contracted polio decades ago.
Photo of Gini Laurie sitting in her office surrounded by books and papers
Left: Gini Laurie, a pivotal figure in the independent living movement and in publicizing the late effects of polio. She founded both the Toomey J Gazette, later renamed the Rehabilitation Gazette, and the Polio Network News. Courtesy of Post-Polio Health International
Image of a handwritten letter

Letter to six-year-old Edna Hindson from her parents saying they are proud that she is able to sit up, 1946 Courtesy of Edna Hindson and Julie Silver

Photo of a cane and leg braces
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Leg braces and cane used by President Franklin Roosevelt Courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York

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