Nancy Rowch, Polio Survivor | Teen Ink

Nancy Rowch, Polio Survivor MAG

By Anonymous

   An Interview with Nancy Rowch,

Polio Survivor

by Devon B., Lincoln, NE When did you get polio?

I got polio in July of 1952, when I was almost a year old.

How did your family find out?

I wasn't old enough to remember, but my mom told me that I had started walking when I was 10 months old. One morning when I woke up, I couldn't walk and I was running a slight temperature. There was a horrible polio epidemic in our city at that time, so my mom was pretty sure that was it. The doctor confirmed it.

How did your family react?

It wasn't until I became a parent that I realized how scared my parents must have been. Polio could certainly be a fatal disease and affected some people quite severely. By the time I thought about it, both of my parents had died so I never got to ask that question but now I wonder about it from time to time.

Were you ever scared?

I think the most frightened I ever became was the first night in the hospital before surgery when I was six years old. My roommate was from Iceland and didn't speak English, so I had no one to talk to. I remember crying.

What happened after they found out you had polio?

There really wasn't anything that could be done after the initial diagnosis. I do remember the general recommendation of exercise. Polio mostly affected my left leg. I wore a brace as a child, I went to swimming lessons every week and my dad hooked up my tricycle to a motor so it would exercise my leg.

Did you have any operations because of it?

I had quite a few. My parents took me to Mayo Clinic when I was six. I had an operation and was in traction for a month. After the operation, my parents went back to Lincoln because my dad had to work and my mom had to take care of my brother and two sisters. She took a train each weekend to see me. I had surgery again a year later. When I was in sixth grade, I had surgery on my hip and was in a large cast from my waist down for two and a half months. I spent my summers before my junior and senior years having operations and hanging around in casts.

What sort of activities did you miss out on?

I never could run the 25-yard dash in grade school, but my mom made sure I did anything I wanted to do. I roller-skated, rode bicycles and played whatever I wanted to play. In P.E., I did what I could and was graded on effort more than physical ability. The summers I spent in casts certainly didn't permit me to go swimming. Looking back, I think all the time I spent in hospitals taught me patience.

Did you ever wonder why you got polio?

Maybe sometimes. Since I don't really remember the 10 months before I had polio, this was just "normal" to me. When I did think about this, I thought it happened to me because my personal character could handle it. I credit my mom with raising me to believe in myself and to achieve whatever goals I set for myself.

Did other kids accept your disability?

I had a lot of friends growing up and don't remember anyone saying anything to me. As I got older, I figured that people who were my friends accepted me for who I was. I always knew that if anyone thought differently of me because I had polio, I didn't want them for my friend, anyway.

Have you always had to wear a brace on your leg?

Before the age of five, I sometimes went without my brace when we were playing in the yard. When I started kindergarten, I wore my brace all the time (except when I went to bed or swimming, of course). When I started college, my doctor made me a plastic splint which I wore for a couple of years. Then I quit wearing anything until my early thirties. By that time, researchers had studied the late effects of polio. I began experiencing pain in my muscles and joints. I went to a clinic for those who had polio. I started wearing a brace again and using a cane.

Do you think polio made you work harder to achieve your goals in life?

Good question. Actually, there's some research that suggests that people who had polio are "Type A" personalities - always working harder to get ahead. I do know that I realized that I was never going to have a job that required a lot of walking or standing. I was always an avid reader and was a good student, so I decided to have a career that used more brain power than muscle power.

In spite of all the adversity that you may have faced with polio, what good things have happened from it?

I learned to be self-reliant and patient. I think I also realized that people should never be judged on the basis of appearance. There are a lot of goals that people can achieve if given the opportunities. My mom helped me believe in myself. I've chosen a career where I work with students who are culturally diverse and don't speak English. I feel that everyone deserves the chance to grow and be treated fairly and with respect. Maybe I would have done this job even if I never had polio. Maybe it's my way of giving back to society.

Similar Articles


This article has 1 comment.

i love this so much!