Letting Family and Friends Help

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After years of exerting energy against polio, Otholyn “Bunny” Smith learns to preserve her strength by doing what she can without pushing it.

Otholyn “Bunny” Smith had a strong suspicion of what was wrong with her when she regained consciousness in a hospital bed 27 years ago. She had been having headaches and trouble breathing for some time before going into respiratory arrest one night.

“I knew it had something to do with the polio,” she says. “When I told [the doctors], they didn’t want to listen.”

Little if anything was known at the time about post-polio syndrome (PPS), but the deterioration of Smith’s diaphragm muscle and her general fatigue was later determined to be symptoms of PPS, which is estimated to affect 25-50 percent of people who previously contracted poliomyelitis.

Smith came down with bulbar and spinal polio when she was 12 years old and spent nine months in an iron lung as part of her treatment. Describing herself as having a Type A personality, she was determined to shed her leg and back brace and walk on her own again. She did so by her 14th birthday.

For 35 years Smith says she lived a slower but normal life until the day she was rushed to the hospital. Since then, she careful not to exert herself and relies on a tracheotomy and a ventilator to help her breath. She’s been in a wheel chair since 1987 – the result of weakened muscles after a surgery.

“It used to be that if you had polio you had to stretch (the muscles),” Smith says. “Now they say if you’ve got [PPS], preserve them.”

For those recently diagnosed with PPS or think they may have it, Smith offers some advice: “I know how they feel, but you’re doing more damage to your system by fighting against it. You’ve got family and friends. Let them help you. The main thing is to do what you can, but don’t push it.”

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