Polio and rheumatic fever

By Sue Staton
Down the Lane

This past week I watched with interest a program on Kentucky Educational Television. The program was about polio.

Polio first appeared in the United States in 1894 in Vermont. Polio is an extremely contagious disease. Other cities throughout the country began getting hit with the disease and parents everywhere feared their children would catch polio.

The program showed survivors from polio. It was very touching to hear what they had gone through as children. It was even more heartbreaking to see what those who contracted polio as an adult went through. The older one was when they contracted the horrible disease, their chance of survival was much less.

From the time I was a child and throughout the 1950s I was well aware of the word polio. It was all over the news reports, and something my parents feared for their children. I heard about the iron lungs, but until the KET program, I had no idea what someone who was put into one had to go through. The iron lung actually did the breathing for the person. They were rolled into something that resembled a large rain barrel. The patient could only stare at a ceiling or from side the side for hours, days, weeks, and even months for some. I could only imagine the total misery they went through to be able to live.

I remember my mom and dad filling up a little card with dimes for the March of Dimes. I am sure that filling even a card that small was not easy for them since they, too, needed every dime they could save. However, it was those dimes that helped find a cure for polio. It was such a smart idea when a close friend of President Franklin Roosevelt, who was struck with polio, realized that almost anyone could give a dime. President Roosevelt’s face is now on the dime
Jonas Salk was the first to come up with a vaccination for infantile paralysis, what polio was known as in 1955. Albert Sabin was the one whose vaccination was considered as having the greatest safety record and is more used.

I remember well the polio shots at school and the little wafer with a red substance on top of it. I had a boy in my third grade class contract polio, and he died. I never forgot him. A girl in the grade above me also had polio. Luckily, she is still alive.

After watching that program I began to wonder about those who had rheumatic fever as children. I wondered if anyone ever thought about making a vaccination for rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic fever is a disease that is caused by a streptococcus bacterial infection known as strep throat. This causes temporary but very painful arthritis and other symptoms such a fever and a rash. It usually begins in children between the ages of five to 15. It starts in the joints and goes to the heart, and often leaves those who have the disease with aortic valve stenosis, aortic regurgitation, heart muscle damage, atrial fibrillation, or heart failure.

I did a little research about rheumatic fever and was shocked to learn that it can be a hereditary disease. Not only did my family get the cancer gene from my mom’s side, but rheumatic fever was also prevalent on her side. My mom had rheumatic fever and her niece died from it at the age of 12.

About seven months after my cousin died from rheumatic fever I was diagnosed with an acute case of rheumatic fever when I was in the first grade. I awakened one morning and was unable to walk. My mother laid me across the bed and I remember her saying that I had red streaks on the back of my legs. I could tell she was panicked, and I was taken to our doctor in Mt. Sterling quickly. Dr. Johnny Knox gave my mother the diagnosis on a Sunday morning and I was bedridden for six months with strict orders I was not to get out of that bed.

My doctor came to my home each day for a few weeks after his day ended in the office. I was given what I referred to as horse pills several times a day. I took four large pills of an antibiotic two times a day. I was also given medicine for my pain. My main memory of rheumatic fever is of very painful legs that seemed to never stop hurting. I was so weak when I first tried to walk I fell and had to pretty much learn to walk again.

I often wonder why you do not hear much about rheumatic fever now. Several of my friends around my age also had rheumatic fever. Just this week my friend, Trudy McKinney, had valve surgery. She, too, had rheumatic fever when she was young.

I had a setback after they thought I was over my first case, and again was told I needed bed rest, but it was for a much shorter period of time. I also have problems that were caused by rheumatic fever with heart disease. Rheumatic fever weakens the valve between the chambers of the heart, and heart murmurs are prevalent with rheumatic fever victims.
I did find there are certain foods one should not eat if they have had rheumatic fever and pasta is one of them. I had never known this, and pasta is one of my favorite foods. I guess I will have to really limit my pasta intake now.

If your child gets a very bad sore throat and running a fever, make sure they see a doctor because there could be a possibility of strep throat, and that is not something to fool around with.

Luckily, I lived in the United States when I was diagnosed with the disease, because in other countries the survival rate is very poor.

For all of you who are victims of rheumatic fever or polio, bless you. For all others, bless you too!