Thursday, February 21, 2019

Polio – A Personal Story

By Kim Taylor
Executive Director, Wichita County Medical Society 

Editor’s Note:  Each month the Texas Medical Association highlights a vaccine-preventable disease. In February, TMA is featuring polio, a disease that attacks muscles, most notably in the arms, legs, and those used for breathing. The disease can cause paralysis. 

In this story, the author shares how polio affected her father, TMA physician member Thomas Taylor, MD, a dermatologist based in Wichita Falls.

Polio has always been a part of my life.

My dad, Thomas Taylor, MD, contracted polio in September 1954 – as he entered dental school. Up until then he even dreamed of becoming a professional golfer. He was 20 years old, living in Houston, and had been married to my mom for only three months when a polio outbreak ravaged America and made him ill. People he knew did not survive that outbreak. He and my mom lived a few blocks from the local hospital, but there was no room to admit him as a patient. Thankfully, since they lived so close, the doctor came by three times a day to check on him. Dad could not walk.

Doctors treated him with the Elizabeth Kenny method of rehabilitation, an alternative form of polio treatment brought to the United States from Australia in the 1940s. It involved applying moist, hot compresses to ease muscle pain, and gently exercising the paralyzed muscles. Dad regained the ability to walk.

Thomas Taylor, MD, before he married
 his wife  Kay, on June 6, 1954.
Courtesy of Kim Taylor
After taking a year off dental school, he returned to study. However, sitting was not allowed in dentistry, so after one year, Dad decided to switch to medical school. (Standing for long periods was too difficult.) To enroll, he had to take two medical school requirements in the summer of 1956. He often talks about how difficult that summer was for him — taking two tough classes, in different areas of Houston.

Dad started medical school at The University of Texas Medical Branch that September. Texas Rehabilitation Agency (known then as the Polio Rehabilitation, sponsored by March of Dimes) paid for his medical education. Daddy graduated and went on to practice dermatology in Wichita Falls. In addition to caring for patients, he served on the Wichita County Medical Society Board for about 10 years, as secretary, president-elect, and president, in 1978. The society honored him with the Distinguished Service Award in 1998. Dad also served for more than 20 years as president of the Wichita County Educational Foundation. The foundation raises money to fund scholarships for paramedical students at Midwestern State University and Vernon College (both which are in the Wichita Falls area).

When Dad went to his 50th medical school reunion, only he and one other doctor were still practicing medicine. That doctor had polio from the same epidemic in which my dad caught it (supposedly six months before the vaccine came out in 1955). That doctor never made it out of a wheelchair.

Thomas Taylor, MD, today.
Courtesy of Kim Taylor
Dad retired on his 78th birthday, in December 2011. In his final working months before retiring, he saw at least 65 patients a day even though he worked just three days a week and clocked out at 2:30 pm.

I think Dad retired when he did only because by then, he walked with a walker and really needed to use a wheelchair. Up to that point, he wheeled himself at work from room to room on an exam chair — he’d had handrails installed in his hall years before because his balance was so poor. Dad used the walker only for about a year. It took a while for Dad to suck up his ego to accept using a wheelchair.  
Now, Dad uses a wheelchair full time. He can’t move his legs at all.

Despite these challenges, my parents – who are devout Christians – always told me that my father getting polio was actually a blessing. It forced Dad to abandon his pro golf dream, quit dental school, and go on to become a very successful dermatologist.

The author (third from left) with her parents and four
siblings in Summer 2018. Courtesy of Kim Taylor 
Mother says it also taught him empathy. He resisted letting the disease affect him physically. Dad always had a limp and walked without aid until about 25 years ago, when he started using a cane. (He swears the Kenny method allowed him to walk without leg braces.)

People don’t realize how bad polio is. Nor do they understand that post-polio is worse, because it is progressive. There is no cure and no research on it because, supposedly, polio was an eradicated disease. At 85, Dad is doing well, but if a post-polio person does not have the financial resources my parents have, they would be up that proverbial creek.

With the debate on vaccinations taking center stage, I tell people who are against vaccines about my father. Dad is out and about all the time, but few people realize that polio put him in a wheelchair. He is one of the few polio survivors left to remind and educate us about the devastating disease.

I wanted to share my family’s story. My four siblings and I realize how blessed we are that Daddy survived polio – especially since many did not – and he and my mom were able to go on to have five children. My parents will be married 65 years in June.

Polio is an awful disease. We need to keep vaccinating everyone against it so after my dad and other survivors like him are gone, polio will exist only in history books.

Editor’s Note: The author’s father, Thomas E. Taylor, MD, penned an article for the Pasadena Citizen titled “It Can Happen to You.” In the article, published on Jan. 27, 1955, Dr. Taylor discusses the moment he learned he had polio, how it put a detour in his education, and the people who helped him treat his condition. Watch for “It Can Happen to You” on

1 comment :

Dianna Smith(Dee) said...

What an awesome man and an inspiring story of your life. I can only pray I am as successful as he and have many years married to my husband!!! God puts you in situations sometimes that may not be the most convenient, but turns out to be the very best for us! This is where leaning not to our own understanding comes into play! God bless you all!

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