Nancy Rowch, Polio Survivor This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   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.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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