In 1953, Carrie Cline Pike, now of Gold Hill, Oregon, contracted polio at age 18 while employed for a large pharmaceutical laboratory seeking a cure for polio. The laboratory had live polio virus samples, the virus was mishandled, and her entire workplace contracted the virus. Most of her co-workers died.
‘I had an extreme headache that day and went home,’ said Pike in a telephone interview, who reads this column in the Rogue River Press in Oregon. ‘Others had gone home the day before. That evening my mother called the doctor, who came to our home. I went in an ambulance to the hospital and was put into isolation.’
She had extreme back pain, had a paralyzed left arm, leg, and side of throat, and would be on an iron lung machine for almost eight months.
Pike proved the doctors wrong. ‘Three doctors said I would never walk again,’ she said. ‘I recovered so beautifully no one could believe it. I not only learned to walk again, but went to nursing school, entering it with braces on my leg and arm.’ She eventually became an emergency room nurse, an avid hiker, a downhill skier, and a licensed pilot.
‘You can accomplish a lot if you let your mind go beyond the barriers of your disability,’ she said of her life.
Then in the early 1990s, a physician determined she had post-polio syndrome (PPS). The U.S. has more than 400,000 polio survivors and perhaps half have PPS. A National Institutes of Health website defines it as ‘a condition that affects polio survivors anywhere from 10-40 years after recovery from an initial paralytic attack of the poliomyelitis virus.’ Symptoms can include fatigue, further weakening of polio-affected muscles, difficulty swallowing, joint pain, and muscular atrophy.
Today, Pike’s symptoms include sleeping and night breathing difficulties, muscle weakness in both legs, and occasional falling while walking. At times she uses a power wheelchair, but prefers walking. She has trouble going up and down stairs.
Now retired, she and her husband moved from Texas to Oregon in 2006 to be near family. At first she felt frustrated not being able to find a family doctor that knew anything at all about polio, let alone PPS.
She counsels people with PPS to have ‘a positive attitude and to do what you can do long as you can do it.’