When I was young, I remember Dad had Polio. I knew it took the muscles in his legs, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant because Dad did everything Dad’s do. He taught me to play sports, he took me hunting, he attended all the regular Father-Son activities that all Fathers did. He walked without the aid of canes or crutches and required no assistance moving around so I thought he was no different from all my friends Dads.
As I grew older, I became more aware of what Polio was and how it affected people. I learned more about how it struck my father down in the prime of his youth, at 16 years old, but I also knew so many people were affected much worse than my father and many of them lost their lives to this disease, so I never thought much about his limitations. They didn’t seem to bother him, so they didn’t bother me. Unfortunately, as time passed, I began to realize something Dad had known his entire life, that Polio was not through with him yet. I was able to talk to Dad about being struck down in the prime. He told me about the treatment he received and, and how it would affect him as he grew older. I became familiar with the term Post-Polio Syndrome.
Dad was wheelchair bound for most of his treatment when he was in his late teens. He made the most of that time, but he cherished the day he was able to walk away from that wheelchair, and he had no intentions of being back in one. Being able to live without the aid of a wheelchair meant to him. He was given a gift that so many people who contracted Polio did not get, he lived, and he could walk, and he was grateful for that.
He knew that the Post-Polio Syndrome was coming for him, but he wasn’t going to give in without a fight and my mother wasn’t going to let him either. She pushed him to keep moving, to keep trying, and he did. I then realized how hard it had been for Dad to do the things he did, to live a normal life. He struggled every day to what we all take for granted, like standing up and walking, but he never complained because he was one of the lucky ones. He tried so hard to continue to do the things he had always done, but his body just wouldn’t cooperate. The Post-Polio Syndrome was catching up with him. Eventually, he could no longer make his frail legs work without help. First the cane was enough, then it was a walker, then it was his sheer will to not let Polio beat him again that kept him moving. He fought to stay out of that wheelchair, and when it became too much, it broke him. The day he had dreaded for over 60 years was staring him in the face, the day he would lose his mobility again due to Polio.
I know his death certificate did not say Polio related, but I knew my dad and I saw the change the lack of mobility caused. How the dread of being confined to a wheelchair again, weighed on him. Dad passed away on March 12, 2011. Polio took his will to live, and that is how Polio took my dad’s life.
Polio is still affecting people’s lives in 2021 in the United States, over 64 years after the vaccine was developed. People like my dad who contracted Polio as children experience the effects of the Post-Polio Syndrome. Please help eradicate polio and stop this terrible disease from affecting more people’s lives.
Gus Anthony, son of Tony Anthony