Life After Polio – Marian Maguire

“There are different ways you learn to cope with it.” – Marian Maguire

Although Marian Maguire of Grand Bend had a mild case of polio as a child, the disease has more of an impact on her life today than ever. She, like so many others, has post-polio syndrome, which progressively disables nerves and muscles in polio survivors.

As told to Casey Lessard

There was an epidemic in the summer of 1938. My cousin had it and I had been visiting her in Parkhill the week before, so they were keeping an eye on me. They caught mine very early because of that.
I was only about four at the time, and all I can remember is being in the hospital in isolation. My mom and dad would come to the hospital but they couldn’t come into the room.

Giving it a second thought
My parents told me I had had it, but I never had any aftereffects from it. I never gave it a second thought until 1970 or ‘75. Someone noticed that I had a slight limp.
It progressively got worse. The muscle in my right calf has deteriorated. The second toe also drops, and you have to watch it or you’ll trip very easy. In the last couple of years, I’ve also noticed my right arm getting weaker.
When you’re younger, some of the nerves will take over and compensate for the ones that are dying. When you get older, they can’t compensate. That’s when you really notice it. They call this post-polio syndrome. I was diagnosed in 1996.

Coping mechanisms
I get muscle spasms, especially at night. You have to get up and move or it drives you nuts. I’ve been dealing with this for 20 years at least.
We used to do a lot of walking, and you can’t do that as much. Fatigue is a big thing.
The drug Mestinon had side effects that I thought I was better off without. But I was on another medication that really helped. No more aching leg at night, and I could sleep. After about two years, it wasn’t working as well and got to a point where it wasn’t working at all.
There are different ways you learn to cope with it. If it bothers me in the evening, I go out for a walk. You need something to get it off your mind. If I have company playing cards, it doesn’t bother me. If I’m sitting watching TV, it bothers me.

Until recently, I have been able to do pretty much everything I wanted. I’m 75, so you can’t expect to do what you did when you were 50. But I notice now that I prioritize things. I don’t want to do something I won’t enjoy because I know I can’t do everything; I can’t stay at something as long as I used to.

Marian’s experience led her to discover post-polio support groups, which she attended for some time. The one she attended was in London, and meets the third Saturday every other month including October. Call Heather McAdam at 519-764-2481 for more information. The March of Dimes ( is also active in supporting polio survivors.