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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

One of the problems that post-polio patients face is finding a doctor who understands the disease.

“In this group of people, they all understand what's going on with each other whereas a lot of people who have never had polio don't understand what's going on with us,” Leard said. “They say, ‘If you exercise you will get your strength back.' That's not the case – the more we do that, the more we lose.”

Thurber, who attends the meetings, walked for 30 years without any problems after his polio diagnosis.

But then his muscles started to weaken, and he is now in a wheelchair.

Thurber has three sons, four grandchildren and five great grandchildren, all of whom have had the polio vaccine. Everyone should be vaccinated because the symptoms of polio are much worse than the risks of the vaccination, Thurber said.

“It would just be criminal not to vaccinate your child in America,” he said.

When the polio vaccination came out, people around the world celebrated.

“I kept thinking, ‘The generations that aren't going to have to mess with this stuff – isn't that wonderful? The mothers and fathers that are not going to see their children go through this.'”

When Thurber contracted polio, he spent four and a-half months in the hospital, in and out of an iron lung. Because of his height, the hospital had to get an iron lung that Thurber could fully fit in. For the first few weeks, he bent his knees to fit inside.

The iron lung would help pull a patient's chest muscles outward, which would help the patient's ability to breath, Thurber said. It wasn't painful but actually comfortable.

“When I see an old report on polio, and I see the iron lung, I have a warm feeling for it because it saved my life, as it did millions of others,” Thurber said.

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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