In the late 1940s and early 1950s, North America was in the grips of a fearful epidemic of Infantile Paralysis (poliomyelitis) that closed parks, swimming pools and other public services for millions of people, afraid to contract this sometimes deadly disease. Massive campaigns were waged to find a vaccine or cure as quickly as possible. This all out effort resulted in the discoveries of the Salk and Sabine vaccines, which effectively put an end to the epidemic by the mid 50s. Polio was conquered!
But was it? Forty years later the survivors who had contracted the disease were experiencing a new set of symptoms that brought back the horrors of the earlier years. Thousands of polio survivors live in Alberta. They are working, raising families, and contributing to their communities. For many, it has been thirty to sixty years since they endured polio and the subsequent rehabilitation. Slowly but surely, physicians in Canada and the United States put together research and determined that Polio had not returned but that the residual effects of the original disease had begun to manifest themselves in previously unknown ways. A new phrase entered into the lives of the survivors and the medical community, Post Polio Syndrome.
post–polio syndrome n : a condition that affects former poliomyelitis patients long after recovery from the disease and that is characterized by muscle weakness, joint and muscle pain, and fatigue Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, 1995 Edition
Here in Canada major research was done by Dr. Reuben Feldman at the University of Alberta Hospital. With the assistance of the Royal Canadian Legion – Alberta/NWT Command he established a clinic for the treatment of Polio Survivors through moderate and individually designed physiotherapy. The Clinic responsibilities were transferred to Dr. Evan Sampson when Dr. Feldman retired. Dr. K. Ming Chan has also been doing extensive research on neuromuscular diseases. More recently, Dr. Chan proposed a new Neuromuscular Centre for multidisciplinary patient care. This Centre would cover the entire spectrum of care from diagnosis, initial care, rehabilitation to monitoring of disease progress and treatment response.
Although the majority of the patients that attend the Clinic are from Edmonton and Northern Alberta, there are many that come from Southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, because it is the only facility of its kind in Western Canada. It is the intention of this group, that accessibility remains because of the uniqueness of the service. Polio has not been conquered throughout the world. Cases occur en masse in India and recently in the Caribbean region and the U.S. The World Health Organization has had to extend its target date for total immunization by two years and that is still being generous. It is hoped that the work that this Clinic does, and the techniques that are developed here and other facilities in North America, can be used to aid the survivors in the rest of the World to adapt to their change in condition and assist them in maintaining as productive a lifestyle as is in their power. Just as the experimental treatments on North American survivors, at the outset of Polio, have been used in these areas, so shall the treatments that we are now learning be used long after we are gone.
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