Local News

Polio Survivors Continue To Deal With Aftereffects

Posted March 18, 2002 4:49 a.m. EST

— Thanks to immunizations, children and their parents in the United States no longer have to worry about polio, but many of the children who survived having polio years ago are now having to deal with it all over again.

In 1964, kids lined up at Joyner Elementary School in Raleigh to get the polio vaccine. Carolyn Denson was not so lucky. In 1950, before the vaccine was available, she contracted polio.

"I'd lose the use of one leg, and then the other leg or arm or breathing or whatever," she said.

Like most children with polio, Carolyn spent a lot of time in hospitals going through intense therapy. Rawlings Denson, her childhood sweetheart at the time, stayed by her side.

"He would help me get into school and get down the hall," she said.

Defying everyone's expectations, Carolyn made a full recovery. Carolyn and Rawlings married and time passed quickly with her polio just a memory.

"You would never had known I had polio. I never thought about it," she said.

However in 1985, her polio symptoms came back.

"I couldn't keep my shoes on because I didn't have any pressure to keep my shoes on," she said.

Carolyn has Post-Polio Syndrome. Doctors do not know what causes it, but they believe that overburdened nerve cells in children with polio fail 30 to 50 years later. As a result, the polio symptoms return.

"I have difficulty swallowing. I have difficulty speaking again," she said.

There are not any medications to treat post-polio. For now, Carolyn spends her days on the couch knitting.

"I've dressed half the babies, I think, in this county," she said.

Carolyn also has to rely once again on her husband. The two celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.

"I'm thankful every morning when I get up and when I go to bed, I'm hopeful I'll be as well off the next day as I was that day," she said.

Post-Polio Syndrome tends to get worse over time. As people rely on other muscles more to compensate for the loss, they, too, start to fail. Some patients do notice improvement with therapy. However, in Carolyn's case, it only made things worse.