Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Life After Polio – JoAnne Brooks

What is polio and why is Rotary so focused on eradicating it from the face of the earth? This is a question we "Baby Boomers" are often asked by younger people who have never been exposed to the devastating effects of this crippling disease.

JoAnne Brooks from Laredo, Texas, gave us a startling reminder of how being infected with the polio virus can change your life for ever. Contracting the virus at the age of four, JoAnne instantly became paralyzed in both arms and her right hand, and this has remained unchanged over the past 48 years.

However, those who know her well, have difficulty labeling JoAnne as disabled. There is little she cannot and does not do. "Can't" is not a word she uses very frequently. She has raised two children (her daughter Brittany is a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, and her son Austin is studying political science and Spanish at North Texas University). Her husband Greg has remained supportive and helped her and the children through many changes in their lives.

JoAnne hopes to serve as an inspiration for others facing challenges in their lives. She also hopes to teach by showing through her actions and life that “Disability” is just a word and a label. We each determine our own boundaries and choose what challenges we will overcome.

Having been a probation officer for many years, JoAnne now spends much of her time working with the Salk Institute to promote awareness about polio, the importance of being vaccinated against it, and the increasing incidence of "post-polio syndrome". Often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome is actually the "wearing out" of muscle and nerves that have compensated for those damaged by polio. This results in breathing, swallowing, and other problems - often in people who did not know they had been infected by the polio virus.

So, polio is very much both "past and present" in the US and as Rotarians, we should be very proud that Rotary (with help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) is helping to put it in the "past" for all nations of the world!

To learn more about polio, JoAnne's life (and her incredible skill as an artist, making jewelry with her feet), please watch the video below, and visit