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14th - 16th September 2007

A report on the Conference from Jean Coe

"An outbreak of Polio is only a plane ride away" said J B Munro, national secretary of the Post Polio Support Society NZ (Inc), paraphrasing the scenario described by Dr Stephen de Graaff MBBS FAFRM of Melbourne who addressed the society's annual Conference recently in Hamilton. Wild strains of polio are still present in countries such as Pakistan (9 cases reported by WHO last year), Afghanistan (3), India (62) and Nigeria (104).

Most society members at Conference came from Auckland through to BOP/Rotorua; others came from other NI areas and a sizeable contingent from the South Island. All attending were polio survivors, including the president for 30 years, Ray Wilson, the secretary J B Munro, ex parliamentarian and CEO of CCS Inc, and the editor, Jim Webber, previously from Kawhia and past correspondent for the Dominion's Motoring Times.

Dr de Graaff remarked that even President Roosevelt of the USA contracted polio as an adult, showing pictures of him in public life and describing how he managed, with much assistance, to appear more physically able than he actually was. Dr de Graaff even showed archaeological evidence of polio as an ancient disease, an Egyptian wall plaque from 1550-3000BC depicting a young man with a withered leg leaning on a stick (classic polio), and similar affliction in a skeleton from 3000 to 2000BC of a 20year old female in United Arab Emirates. Dr De Graaff's talks covered the history of polio, criteria for Post Polio Syndrome, management of the deteriorating condition, exercise and the elderly, and pain management for those unfortunate enough to be experiencing constant pain..

All polio survivors have contracted polio in earlier years and recovered to some degree; some appear now to be still unaffected, some have used a wheelchair for most of their lives, and others somewhere in between, having developed strategies to cope. Yet all of these people have noticed a weakening, a deterioration in their capabilities as the original recovery levels diminish. Dr de Graaff explained this process as being part of the Post Polio Syndrome, which few medically trained people understand as this is a new phenomenon to them. The condition has been described in only the last 30 years and is not taught in medical schools. It was heartening that the conference was attended by a sprinkling of professionals, including physiotherapists from the Queen Elisabeth Hospital, Rotorua.

Polio survivors who use aids develop, of necessity, a close relationship with their orthoticist, a scarce service. As a local guest speaker at the dinner, Colin Storey said that polio legs change their shape with muscle atrophy, bowing etc, so that polio survivors wear out their calliper, joints and leathers,

Dr de Graaff emphasised the importance of medications for polio survivors being at a suitable strength for their condition, and that someone undergoing surgery with a general anaesthetic can take an extraordinarily long time to "come round" if the dosage given had not had taken into account the effects of polio on the nervous system; he mentioned certain other drugs which should be avoided by polio survivors if at all possible.

Waikato PPS members include a retired farmer, Jack, who was recently awarded for bravery in tackling a robber in a shop, and Dick from Matamata, who was the NZ Snooker Champion at one stage; he would wedge the back end of the cue against his good arm and give a jerk. The conference was told of a tall tennis player from Hamilton called Arthur who contracted polio as an adult, but with double callipers and crutches got around town in an adapted Mini car or rode a tricycle, living an active life to age 83.

This was the first time Hamilton has hosted the Conference, a very successful occasion which raised local awareness of the potentially fatal disease and its after-effects.

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