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Tips for Polio Survivors

T’N'T: Tips and Techniques for Polio Survivors
by Dr. Richard L. Bruno

Not from Tennessee? You may not know the name Steve Cohen. If you don’t, write it down. Because, if you’re a polio survivor anywhere in these the United States, freshman Democratic Representative and polio survivor Stephen Cohen has just become your Congressman.

“Delayed gratification,” was Cohen’s reply when I asked how he felt about winning. “I’m excited about going to Washington, where I’ve wanted to be my entire life.”

Cohen has been trying to get to DC for forty years. At sixteen, he applied to be a Congressional page. “Over the years, I applied to be a Congressional intern, a government lawyer, and for jobs in Democratic administrations.” Cohen was never hired. He also lost a 1996 Congressional bid.

But, although Washington was always on his mind, Cohen was working hard in Tennessee. A practicing lawyer, Cohen was elected to served as a Shelby County commissioner, where he helped to create “The Med,” a community-funded regional hospital. Cohen was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 1982, where he served for twenty-four years and supported expanding healthcare access, voting rights and the medical use of marijuana.

Some of Cohen’s passion for public service and health care can be related to polio, which he had at age five in under particularly disturbing circumstances. “My father was a pediatrician, participating in the 1954 Salk vaccine trials. The protocol was to give vaccine to second graders, like my brother Martin, who got the shot. My father thought about taking some vaccine home to give to me. He didn’t do it.”

Cohen isn’t sure why his father withheld the vaccine. One notion is that his father thought there was a small chance Cohen could get polio from the vaccine. “The other story is that my father didn’t give me the vaccine because it wasn’t right, my not being in the study group. I got polio in fall of ‘54, an ironic situation.”

Cohen was hospitalized in isolation and then in a rehabilitation facility for about 3 months. “My left leg and back were affected.” He got the usual treatment — hot packs, water therapy and PT — and uused crutches for all of first grade. “I wore a cast sophomore year in high school to stretch my achilles tendon, which didn’t work. So, I had tendon lengthening surgery my junior year.”

Cohen is one of not even a handful of polio survivors in the public eye who admits to having Post-Polio Sequelae. “I limp more than I used to. The past year, when I’m standing, I feel like I’m going to lose my balance.”

Cohen also says he gets more tired than he used to. “But, I drive myself. I go way beyond warp, and I always have.” Based on the theory of conserving to preserve poliovirus-damaged neurons, Cohen says, “I probably took five to seven years off my leg during the campaign, because I was going every minute. I was hustling like when I was 20 year-old!”

But, Cohen knows what he has to do now. “Take two rest periods, sit when you can and save your neurons… which is the opposite of what I’ve always been thinking: Exercise, Exercise, Exercise.” A PT had given Cohen exercises — muscle resistance, quad strengthening by squatting and balancing on one foot — which he hasn’t done.

What’s more, Cohen was planning to manage his PPS even before he was sworn in. He asked for a ground floor suite in the House office building closest to the Capitol, right next to the escalator going to the subway that travels to the Capitol building. Cohen is also thinking of getting a Segway.

Cohen is already planning to help polio survivors and promote polio vaccination during 2007, declared by Congress as “The Year of Polio Awareness.” He has already talked to Rhode Island Representative and quad Jim Langevin, who asked Cohen to join the Disability Caucus with another polio survivor, Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton.

“Polio is part of my life. I want to do whatever I can to help polio survivors and encourage vaccination in Africa and in America. I am a testimonial to what vaccination could do.”

Delayed gratification and persistence. A winning combination for one polio survivor from Tennessee and 1.63 million polio survivors across the US. ________________________________________________________________

Polio Survivors of Montana