John Bryan – Takes Life as a Challenge

John BryanI became very ill in early July, 1959 at age 12. I was playing baseball during a night game and became very woozy when rounding first base after a single. The next morning I awoke with a terrible headache on the top of my head, feeling as though someone was drilling into my brain. Three doctor visits in the next three days all ended the same way, with the old country doctor stating I had strained myself putting up too much hay (we farmed in Nebraska). On the fourth day, I did not have the strength to turn on the water faucet so the folks took me to a younger town doctor who immediately stated I had polio and that I had to leave for a big hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska immediately. What I really remember about that doctor visit was a nurse trying to get a blood sample, but there was no circulation in any fingers even though she stuck each one about five times, then rubbed my fingers to try to get blood flowing, but she never got a drop.

I remember nothing of the next couple of days until I was rolled on my side for a spinal tap. Then a doc came into my isolation room and told me I had to learn body alignment which meant lying flat on my back with no pillow in case serious paralysis set in. Sister Kenny method hotpacks with wool & cotton blankets soaked all bedding a couple of times a day. I remember lying in bed wondering if I was still going to be accepted by the kids in school and the neighborhood. I went through all the soaking in warm, swirling water and the painful bending and manipulation by the physical therapist. Finally, after three weeks I was moved to pediatrics where another doctor scared me by telling me the future held crutches and braces and staples being inserted around my right knee cap to impede growth so the left leg could catch up. As soon as he told me that I was determined to learn how to walk again! When alone, I sat up in bed and very shakily held onto the wall as I got out of bed and tried to take a few steps to the bathroom. After a few days I was walking the hallways like Frankenstein. I spent only two months in the hospital and had a year and a half of physical therapy.

A little over six years later I enlisted in the Army in February of 1966, talking the Army doctor into accepting me after he had initially disqualified me from service because of physical limitations. I retired from the military as an Army Reserve colonel forty-one years later. I have been told many times that I am a classic, very strong Type-A personality. I have taken everything in life as a challenge, proving to myself and others that I could do the same things as everyone else.

Lately, the physical grind has caught up to me. I have been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, both types of sleep apnea (I have a bi-pap machine) and limp noticeably. I have had ortho surgeries on my back and shoulder. How much of the physical weakness comes from the fact that I’m 63? How much stems from the fact that I have several serious maladies? How much can be attributed to polio? I don’t know but still consider myself extremely lucky.

Be Sociable, Share!


14 Responses to “John Bryan – Takes Life as a Challenge”

  1. Ella Gaffney says:

    Hi John

    Reading your story, reminded me that I still try and do everything even though you know you should pace yourself. It’s hard to lose the try and stop me attitude. I’ll hit the big 60 in 2011 and it is getting harder to keep up the pace. I also feel very lucky with my life and family. This is a great site and when you read some of the stories, it makes you think I’m not so bad off after all.
    Wishing you all the best for the future.

  2. Gladys says:

    I very much enjoyed reading your story, and your picture in front of the American flag is striking! Loved it!!!

  3. Just as a note of encouragement, I had polio at age 5 which paralyzed me. When I was 7 I learned to walk with my younger brother. At 18 I joined the US Navy and spent 22 years active traveling all over the world and even spending 6 weeks in country Viet Nam. I spent a lot of time on Aircraft Carriers working the flight deck. My wife said that out of 5,000 guys coming off the ship at the same time and all dressed alike that she could always pick me out because of the way my head bobbed when I walked. I got my retirement physical on board the USS Eisenhower from a reserve Navy Captain that we had on board. After asking me a lot of question and having me do some crazy things for a physical he wanted to know just how in the hell I had gotten in the Navy in the first place much spent 22 years. He was the first person that told me that I had had polio. My mother had always me that I had spinal meningitis. He said that I could be very proud of what I had accomplished with my life.

    I have since learned that my high speed probably exacerbated the symptoms I have now but I would not change a thing. Let me wish you good luck and fair winds and following seas. You and your family will always be in my prayers.

    Deacon Welton “Rusty” Fiedler

  4. John Bryan says:

    I was fitted for a leg brace recently. It really seems to help my left leg and foot to step properly. The doctor prescribing the brace told me to be thankful I got through fifty one years before having to brace up!

  5. I can relate to your experiences. I too was in the service, though only one tour on active duty, spending the rest in the Reserve and retiring as a Naval Commander. I salute your type “A” personality! Lorraine Hartik P.S. I am a little older than you, so had polio sooner than you also. My story is also on Polio Today.

  6. Bob Prater says:

    John, I went almost 60 years before having to “brace up”. This summer a phsyiatrist at RWSI ordered bilateral afo’s…I have severe supination of right foot and moderate supination on left. Braces have helped with knee and lower leg pains. Dr. says afo’s will also help save muscles. It is surprising how many of us were able to get into service after polio. I think being “type A” sort of comes with the territory. I retired from State of GA with 30 yeas service, retired from consulting, retired as exec dir of local Habitat for Humanity, and recently “retired” from banking. I am now an historical reenactor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By the way, throughout my life after college, I have served as Pastor or Associate Pastor of small churches. I am currently Associate Pastor for Music and Worsip.

    I am thankful for PPS Groups.

  7. John Bryan says:

    Wow! I believe I am amongst a group of super achievers who have let nothing stand in their way!

  8. Marite says:

    Reading your story, reaffirms that we indeed belong to a breed that continues to try and do everything even though we all know we should pace ourselves. Saying Active Type A personality is almost too simple. It’s hard to lose the try and stop me attitude.
    I’ll be 63 in 2011 and although it occasionally gets harder to keep up the pace. I too feel very lucky with my life, family and accomplishments in both professional and personal life.

    Unlike most, I got sick and dagnosed with infantile paralysis at 18 months old, vaguely remember the treatment process but have been lucky to have my parents and family by my side. I have used a full left leg brace since as far back as I remember earliest close to 7-years old. Two years ago I changed to a Helios Orthotic system which is light years aways from the pieces of metal we are all used to. This is much lighter, less stress on my back and improved my gait. One great side effect is in spite of having a two inch differential between a left and right leg – I no longer need the lift in my shoe as Mitch built it in the brace. Now I am no longer captive – to made to order shoes 🙂 at exhorbitant highway robbery prices! I can now buy off the rack with some minor adjustments. (add non-slip rubber soles). is a great site and after reading some of the stories, it makes me think I’m not so bad off after all.
    Thank you for sharing. Wishing you all the best for the future.

  9. John Bryan says:

    Thanks for all the nice words and encouragement. I am pretty sure many of us stay busier than our non-polio patient counterparts. Since retirement from Civil Service and the Army Reserve, I have continued to work fulltime for Department of Defense. I belong to American Legion, VFW, Masonic Lodge, Shrine and several veterans support groups through the VA. I also record my own music as I have a home studio with all the instruments and electronics to make me sound like a complete band. I play tuba in a community band and perform with guitar every now and then in public for various events. I always serve as a keynote speaker at Memorial Day and Veterans Day events. I travel extensively through my job and have written a 242-page book for my family and posterity that delves into my life experiences and travels. I am divorced, but stay in close contact with my sons attending college out of state and my lovely daughter who is a junior in high school excelling in academics and athletics. Good wishes to all!

  10. Ishbob Blockenheim says:

    thanks john! that was so inspiring.

  11. Susan says:

    Thank you John for a very inspiring life and protecting our country. I am 66, received the good news in 1996 that I indeed had something going on…………….after seven doctors denied that I had PPS. Thank you very much! When I received the news I attacked it with vengence. While I watched in horror as my body betrayed me, I said nope not going to do this……………..and I moved on and I’ve done well.
    Unfortunately my body is through with my silliness and has chosen to ralley against me. I am now facing total neck and lunbar spine reconstruction…………..amazing you say……..can you believe that I still refuse to use any “devises”. I’m slower now and I’m thinking about the surgery……..just thinking.
    I’m new to this “community-Polio Today”-but I like what it’s doing. I’ve never heard anyone talk about polio or PPS and it some how feels good and it comforts me.
    My mother, God rest her soul never “talked” about my Polio. I was 5…1952….San Francisco, Calif. Seven years later we moved….still no talk……..1996…….PPS she still wouldn’t talk about it. Now its 2012, she’s dead but you know what my sisters still won’t talk about it.
    So thanks for sharing…………….it really does help. Kindest Regards, Susan

  12. John Bryan says:

    Hello All. Since my last comments I had an extensive neck operation. Through the front, two discs removed, three vertabra fused and three-inch titanium plate installed. Now I have a lot of trouble swallowing breads or meats. Oh well, just another thing!!

  13. Marci Ellison says:

    Wow! What a remarkable journey! I had polio when I was 7 years old in 1955 and living in Illinois. It affected my neck, back, and both legs–but much more in the left which is completely paralyzed. With physical therapy and surgeries, I was crutch and brace free for years. In my mid-20s I started having issues with weakness which disappeared when I became pregnant, and resumed later. It took them about 7 years to finally diagnose me with myasthenia gravis. I had a thymectomy and that put me into remission, and I had many more productive years, though had lost a lot of ground and did start using crutches. Now I am retired, and have two full leg braces. And for longer distances my scooter or wheelchair are invaluable friends. I am frustrated by the fact that I cannot get doctors to agree my decline came from being post polio. They use the diagnosis of “disuse osteoporosis. Grrrrrrrr. Glad you seem to be getting the medical support you need. I am sure your swallowing problems are more severe dealing with post-polio syndrome and myasthenia gravis. Wishing you all the best. We are survivors! Marci

  14. Isabel Alvarez says:

    Hello, I am a 9th grader who was doing a project about polio and I stumbled in this website. I just want to say that your stories all inspire me. I can’t imagine the feeling of having polio. But you people are very brave sharing your stories. You are all my inspirations.
    Thank you,

Leave a comment...