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Oklahoma City polio support group helps residents understand disease

The United States became free of polio in the 1970s, but that didn't mean people who contracted the disease were free of symptoms. A post-polio support group meets monthly in Oklahoma City to share resources among disease sufferers and empower each other.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: March 23, 2012

Frank Thurber isn't bitter about the fact that he contracted polio six months before the disease's vaccination became available.

“You handle it as it comes, and you deal with life the way the good Lord intended you to do it – with strength and vigor,” said Thurber, 76.

It was 1954, and Thurber, who is 6-foot-7, was 19 and had a full scholarship to play basketball at Oklahoma City University.

Even though the United States is polio free, Thurber still suffers from the effects of polio, for he is one of the many people who have what's known as post-polio syndrome.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is an infectious viral disease that can strike at any age and affects a person's nervous system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the late 1940s to the early 1950s, in the United States alone, polio crippled about 35,000 people each year, making it one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century, according to the CDC.

By 1979, the country became polio free. Since the development of polio vaccines, few people living in the Western hemisphere have contracted polio. Children in the U.S. are routinely vaccinated against polio.

But an end to the epidemic in the U.S. didn't mean the people who contracted polio were free of the disease, though.

Post-polio syndrome is a complication that develops in some patients, usually 30 or more years after they are first infected, according to the CDC. Muscles that were already weak may get weaker. Weakness may also develop in muscles that were not affected before.

People with post-polio syndrome can attend a support group that meets in Oklahoma City. The group meets on the fourth Saturday of every month from March through October. The meetings are at 11:30 in the private room at Johnnie's Charcoal Broiler at 2652 W. Britton Road in Oklahoma City.

Yvonne Leard, who helps organize the meetings, said the group shares resources about the disease and also information about doctors and physical therapists in the area.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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