Brett Howard's Polio Story

Once they found out I had polio I was past the infectious stage, so I was treated at home.
I was still confined to the house for a few weeks that I can remember.

Vivid memories I have are of having a district nurse come in and do physio in the house. When I went to bed I used to have a half cast bandaged to my leg. My sister remembers helping with some of my exercise which was horrible, because it hurt – I don’t remember it but she does.

From about age seven I had a pretty normal life. I had a weaker right leg which made my sporting achievements a bit lacklustre - I was always in D grade in Aussie Rules Football, but I still got out and had a go. I took on an apprenticeship, developed a career, and enjoyed getting out bushwalking.

Then around age 50 I started getting tired and fatigued.  You can look at it and say ‘well, I’m just a lazy old bastard,’ but there was a problem. My GP identified it as Post-Polio. I struggled with it by myself then for a while. Then around 2006 at 57 I was advised to retire.

Not long after retirement I had to have some treatment because I had a really bad back – all my spine was out because of my shorter leg. My GP suggested I have Rhizolysis where they burn the end of the nerve to stop it sending signals back to the spine. When I had the surgery in December 2006, the doctors suggested that “you’ll be back to see us for another round of this as everyone else has”.

Well I wasn’t coming back for another round, so I challenged myself! A lot of people have the Rhizolysis but then don’t keep up their movement because of pain. You have to start with what you can do, so I challenged myself by starting hydrotherapy out at Modbury. That was really the limit of what exercise I could do at the time. I got stronger and managed to start Pilates as well. I haven’t needed to go back to see the surgeon about Rhizolysis since.

I realised I could get cheaper hydro through Polio SA – so I joined. I was a member for 12 months then thought I’d better do something useful and joined the committee; in 2010 I took over the presidency after the previous president left to care for his wife, who had a bad relapse.

Most of our members are older people who contracted polio in Australia but there’s also a next generation of people who contracted polio overseas and we’d like them to be accessing the benefits we have on offer.

To everyone living with the late effects of polio - once its identified, listen to your body and don’t overdo it, but don’t do nothing either. There’s support out here for you from people like me and the others at Polio SA who can share our experiences and support.