King’s Lynn’s Sue, 66, still fighting off the legacy of childhood polio

Sue O'Brien speaks about post-polio syndrome.
Sue O'Brien speaks about post-polio syndrome.
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Decades after believing she had successfully fought off polio, the infection is once again affecting the life of a Lynn woman.

Sue O’Brien and her brother Peter were among the thousands of British youngsters struck down by the disease during an outbreak in the 1950s.

Mrs O’Brien contracted a mild form and was able to fight it off but her brother died at the age of 10.

Ten years ago she was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome (PPS) after suffering from severe fatigue.

The exact cause of this condition is not known but it only affects people who have survived childhood polio.

It is not known how many people have PPS but is estimated that 120,000 people in the UK had childhood polio.

The disease has been wiped out in the UK thanks to vaccination with the last case reported in 1984.

Mrs O’Brien, 66, of Goodwins Road, said: “Polio devastated my family and we never got over the death of my brother.

“I was the lucky one as I got over polio and I’m grateful that my mother never lived to see me suffering from the after-effects. For her that would be heartbreaking.”

Mrs O’Brien was just five and living in Newcastle when she was infected, alongside her brother, who was left paralysed and treated in an iron lung.

She said: “I thought I was absolutely lucky as I grew up and had no effect from it.” But in 1999, Mrs O’Brien began to suffer from severe fatigue and an article in the Lynn News then told her of PPS.

She said: “I went to a roadshow in Lynn Corn Exchange and the penny dropped. It took five years to get a diagnosis.”

Many doctors believe that the condition is caused by the deterioration of nerve cells in the spinal chord, which were already damaged by the earlier infection.

Symptoms include fatigue, muscle weakness, pain along with breathing problems.

Mrs O’Brien has been left with some mobility issues and pain as a result of PPS.

She said: “You have to adjust your lifestyle as it can be a painful condition.”

Mrs O’Brien is chairwoman of the King’s Lynn Polio Group which is hosting a talk on the British Polio Fellowship, from Laura Skorupa, on Monday, at 2pm at the London Road Methodist Church. It will also include discussion on PPS.

For more information contact Mrs O’Brien on 01553 774638.