I have never featured anyone quite like 63-year-old Rick Kneeshaw. He acquired polio at age 3 and post-polio syndrome about age 36. The National Institutes of Health describes post-polio syndrome as a condition affecting polio survivors “years after recovery from an initial acute attack of the poliomyelitis virus. It can cause weakening in affected and non-affected muscles, muscle atrophy, fatigue, and joint degeneration pain.”
Said Kneeshaw in a telephone interview, “By age 16, I had spent over four years total in Shriners Hospital for 12 different orthopedic operations. I have positive recollections of being in the hospital and marked my childhood by the various hospital stays that averaged between three and nine months.”
The hospital offered a basic school education up to eighth grade. At 16, he began working towards an engineering degree at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in order to become an electronics engineer. Although having missed much of high school math because of hospitalizations, he still was able through sheer determination to pass his courses and graduate.
He said, “And if I had my life to live over again, I would remain disabled. Lots of good has come from it. For example, in 1953 I was a (polio) poster child and over the next 30 years I did hundreds of talks for the Shriners and Rotary (about polio). Through it, I learned how to do public speaking and used that skill to advance my career. I went from being a junior engineer at work to being a company director selling $25 million material handling systems. I got to travel all over the world and use my public speaking skills to earn a good living.”
He attributed his being more self-aware, his ability to focus on college school work, and his current self-confidence to having had polio.
“Most polio survivors are over-achievers who want to do all they can for others,” he said. “In general, they are good communicators because in order to survive you had to ask for help and get others to do things for you that you couldn’t.”
Kneeshaw has been completely paralyzed in his left leg, hip, and left side of back since age 3. To get around, he uses a combination of crutches, long-leg brace, power wheelchair, cane, and scooter. He has a completely accessible home and garden, and regularly enjoys woodworking.