Thursday, December 31, 2009

Post-polio survivors work to stay fit

From the York Daily Record in Pennsylvania:

As a baby, John Breach (pictured) couldn't crawl as quickly as his fraternal twin brother could. That alerted his doctors to his poliomyelitis.

Breach contracted the disease shortly before a preventive vaccine reached the Harrisburg area, where he was born.

"In my case, it's obviously been an issue my whole life," Breach said. "You're always compensating. I wear a lift in my shoe to try to make up the difference, but you don't have the strength."

As a kid, he underwent several surgeries and wore a leg brace to correct problems caused by polio.

But he hasn't let polio stop him from doing what he wants. Breach, 54, of Windsor Township is a project manager for commercial properties in the construction business.

"I actually played baseball as a kid. . . . They'd put a runner in for me," he said. "I was just trying to fit in."

He said his wife of 36 years, Marjorie, and his mother never let him use polio as an excuse.

"I think having strong women in my life has been a good thing for me," said Breach, who has three children and two grandkids.

Breach said he's unaware of any local support networks for polio survivors.

"It's like you're on an island. . . . When you're the dinosaur, it would be nice to interact with others," he said.

Breach said he's concerned the disease could reactivate.

"No one seems to know . . . what is going to happen. What should I be looking for when I'm 65 or 70?"

York Hospital spokesman Barry Sparks, 60, was 5 years old when he was diagnosed.
"I remember that I was having trouble walking up the steps," he said.

Sparks spent several months in the hospital and wore a leg brace. At that time, he lived in Dorchester County, Md., where six children were known to have polio. Three of them died from the disease, he said.

"As a result (of polio), my right side today is a lot stronger than my left side," he said.
Like Breach, Sparks said polio didn't keep him from being active.

"I played Little League baseball. I still swim," Sparks said. "I've been fortunate."

Joel Rodney, chancellor at Penn State York, said doctors misdiagnosed his muscle weakness when he was a child. He wasn't diagnosed as a polio survivor until he was an adult.

"What concerns me is finding doctors in the U.S. who know what they're dealing with," said Rodney, who uses leg braces to help him walk.

His wife, Judy, was diagnosed with polio as a baby. Today, she battles post-polio syndrome.

"I have deteriorated over the years," she said of her physical strength. "Now, I use . . . a wheelchair most of the time."

Mary Ann Keenan -- a professor, vice chairwoman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and chief of neuro-orthopedic services at the University of Pennsylvania -- saw Judy Rodney as a patient.

It can take 30 years on average for a polio survivor to decline physically, she said.

"Post-polio syndrome is when they begin to lose more function," she said.

Eric Barr, a physician at Family Medicine Associates of York in West York, said he has about 2,500 patients and knows of just one who's a polio survivor.

"It's pretty rare," he said. "We don't see the active disease . . . because of the vaccine."

Although polio is believed to be eradicated in the U.S., children should still be vaccinated against it, he said.

"We don't want to become lax," he said. "You run the risk of allowing (resurgence of) the disease."

Sufferers risk developing post-polio syndrome, which is a reactivation of the disease and usually affects the survivor's previously unaffected limbs or muscles, Barr said.

"I guess, you're kind of never out of the woods in a sense," Barr said of polio survivors. "We don't have an active way to combat it."