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Mama – A Polio Survivor!

portrait of a happy family

This is one of my favorite pictures! From left to right we are: my daughter, Miranda; me; my mother, Kathryn; and my daughter, Stephanie. Mama was a loving and ever-present figure in my children’s lives. My son, Cary, is not in this picture, but Memama was a huge presence in his life too. In this picture, “the girls” are touring the Wesley Child Development Center at our church, First United Methodist of Orlando. Mama attended the church with us every Sunday.

Mama contracted polio at the age of 18 months and spent many months unable to walk due to the disease. She remembered stories of her brothers and sisters carrying her around and caring for her. She was an incredible fighter though! At the age of 24, she underwent a cutting-edge surgery to transplant a ligament from her toe to her heel, which was quickly shortening. The heel ligament was keeping her from putting her foot flat on the floor, as the heel cord tightened and pulled it shorter and shorter. (This might not be medically correct language, but this was Mama’s story and her understanding of the event.) She was a working girl, drawing maps for a chart company, and couldn’t afford the surgery. The doctor agreed to perform the operation for $500, if she would let other surgeons examine her ligament transplant at an upcoming convention. She agreed and gladly modeled her post-surgery scars and normal gait. It is my understanding that she appeared in a medical textbook in the 1940s.

As many polio survivors experience, Mama began to have symptons of post-polio syndrome. (For a fact sheet on this syndrome, follow this link.

She felt weakening of her muscles and pain throughout her body. After years of using a cane, she finally took that cool scooter for a spin. It had sat in her tiny duplex, fully charged, for such a long time. The kids would ride it around the living room, but Mama’s pride would not let her take it outside. When she embraced the scooter, she broadened her horizons. Life got way more fun, and she became a self-proclaimed “expert” on navigating small spaces and parallel parking up to tables for dinner!

I’m going to use this forum to tell you Mama’s story, and I’ll let her tell it herself through her poetry and essays. She was a prolific author and went by the moniker, “Golden Writer.” I’ll also tell you about my mother-in-law, Betsy. Mama has joined her heavenly Father, but Betsy is fighting the good fight in Minneapolis, just blocks from her daughter and her family. Mama stayed in her own apartment on her own terms until her last days. Betsy (Mom, Nana) chooses to stay at home, with help from caregivers and her family. (Many thanks to Kathryn, April, and Keegan!!)

Here is Mama’s obituary, if you’d like to see it:

Please send me tales of your senior who stayed at home, and I’ll be happy to include it on our blog. [email protected]

Melanie: VP Flourish in Place

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