Reflections from the Australasian-Pacific Post-Polio Conference

On Monday 19 September, I flew into Sydney a little apprehensive about what the next three days would bring. The following morning, I walked into the foyer of the Four Seasons Hotel along with 250 delegates, presenters, carers and friends and was immediately put at ease.

We all received our name tags from the registration desk before moving to the business displays, which included orthotic devices, respiration aids and Mt Wilga Private Hospital. The walls were adorned with posters depicting the progress of polio through the ages, artwork with interpretations of disabilities caused by polio, and charts and graphs from some of the presentations to come.

We were ushered into plenary room for the official welcome and opening at 9 am. Then we went to our selected sessions for an hour before morning tea. Here I will tell you that the food was just great! Every morning tea, afternoon tea and luncheon had a plethora of choices and every break had a different spread. I think I put on two kilograms over the three days.

All presentations received positive feedback and I could give my impressions of the sessions I attended, but all the content from the conference will be available soon on the Polio Australia website:

However, I will tell you about some of the presentations that have left a lasting impression on me.

The first of these was by Gayle Kennedy, an indigenous woman who, at three months, was taken to Sydney for treatment in an iron lung. She was not able to see her parents until they came to pick her up three years later, not realising who those dark-skinned people were. In the 50s indigenous people were not free to travel without permission from the authorities. I still think about this story.

Danica Knezvic’s presentation was an audiovisual representation of her grandmother moving back and forth throughout her house and the tempo and rhythm of those footsteps and shuffles. Danica is now the carer for her grandmother.

Dr Antonio Toniolo told us of his research at the University of Insubria Medical Centre, Varese, Italy. His team have found remnant poliovirus traces in DNA strands in some post-polio survivors. This research shows that these remnants are not transmitted to family members or the community.

Dr Kerry Highley’s closing plenary touched me personally and took me back to when I was going through the original infection and isolation, and included the fear, rejection, denial and anger I felt. I guess I was tired and had listened to much information over the conference, as I was very emotional at the end of her talk.

The conference was a highlight of my life with late effects of polio and I thank the organisers and all the presenters. I am also very happy to think that Polio SA assisted six members to attend.

Brett Howard
Polio SA President