Polio survivor returns to TIRR Memorial Hermann as adult for post-polio treatment

By Jade Waddy

Dana Cowey vividly remembers when she first arrived at TIRR Memorial Hermann at the age of 3 in 1966 for treatment of polio. Over the next decade, Cowey would come back to TIRR Memorial Hermann once a month for treatment of her polio conditions.

TIRR Memorial Hermann can trace its roots back to the early 1950s when polio was at the height of its epidemic in the United States. TIRR Memorial Hermann’s founder, William A. Spencer, M.D., established one of the first polio treatment centers in the nation, the Southwestern Poliomyelitis Respiratory Center, in Houston.

“I remember many of the early physicians such as Drs. Spencer and Harrington,” Cowey said. “I still have very vivid memories of my time here and the other children who were also receiving treatment for polio.”

Cowey went on to have a successful career, travel the world, and also became a mother.

Post-polio symptoms begin

Nearly five decades after her treatment at TIRR Memorial Hermann as a child, Cowey began experiencing symptoms doctors describe as post-polio syndrome.

“I began losing sensation over the last few years and also started to not be able to run my accounting services as I had for so many years due to the impact on my memory,” Cowey said. “It’s extremely ironic that where I was first treated for polio as a child, I’m now being treated for post-polio as an adult.”

“Although polio has been eradicated in the United States for many years, many survivors of the polio virus have been experiencing post-polio syndrome, which is associated with gradual weakness in muscles, fatigue and loss of function,” said Dr. Lisa Rose Wenzel, an affiliated post-polio physician at TIRR Memorial Hermann.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, researchers estimate that the condition affects 25 to 50 percent of polio survivors.

Cowey was able to get into the Post-Polio Syndrome Clinic at TIRR Memorial Hermann and went on to spend two weeks in inpatient rehabilitation. During this time, therapists worked with her on range of motion in her neck. For more than 50 years, Cowey relied on pushing herself in her manual wheelchair and, over time, this began to wear on her body.

In addition to a noticeable reduction in range of motion in her neck, Cowey was suffering from fatigue due to the increased amount of energy she had to expend in order to get around in a manual wheelchair.

“Once I got to TIRR Memorial Hermann, Dr. Wenzel let me know I could no longer live under the mantra, ‘use it or lose it’ that I had known for so long as a polio survivor,” Cowey said. “Now, I needed to look at life as ‘conserve it (muscles), to preserve it.’”

While at TIRR Memorial Hermann, Cowey was fitted for a power wheelchair which would help to conserve her energy and hopefully reduce the fatigue she felt.

Now back at home, Cowey is grateful for her most recent time at TIRR Memorial Hermann where she learned how to address the needs of her body.

To learn more about post-polio syndrome treatment at the Post-Polio Clinic at TIRR Memorial Hermann visit http://tirr.memorialhermann.org/programs-specialties/post-polio/

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