Polio Survivors Ireland

April 11 2023

Polio Survivors Ireland Member Spotlight visual

The mission of DFI Member Organisation Polio Survivors Ireland is to create awareness and provide information regarding the late effects of polio among polio survivors, statutory agencies and the wider medical profession, and to ensure that the needs of polio survivors relating to their condition are met to enable them to live with dignity.

We are delighted to have the opportunity to feature them in our Member Spotlight this month as they prepare to celebrate their 30th anniversary later this year. 

DFI's Communications Manager Brenda Drumm met with Fran Brennan, CEO of Polio Survivors Ireland and spoke to him about the history of the organisation and the changes that it has seen in the last 30 years. 

Fran said the organisation was founded by a small but intrepid group of polio survivors. That "by the early nineties, these were middle aged and many of them thought they had left the worst of polio behind them but that they were suddenly discovering new symnptoms that they could not fathom. People were becoming more fatigued and suffering chronic pain, headaches and extreme intolerance to the cold.  A group of them met in Joan Bradley's kitchen and they had a chat about what was happening to them. They agreed more research was needed. They wanted to get some guest speakers from the United States where there was a lot more chatter about this phenomenon which was increasingly being described as post-polio syndrome and they wanted to bring it to the attention of the Irish medical authorities as well as fellow polio survivors. So that was the genesis of the organisation. About eight or nine people came together after about six months and they orgsnised a confernece and got some funding to bring over guest speakers from the US. They advertised in letters to the newspapers and they brought together 50 or so polio survivors for their first conference and really it grew from there."

Fran also spoke about how the organisation has moved on and changed over the years. He said, "The biggest thing we do is provide a range of services and supports directly to polio survivors. From aids and appliances to helping people gain access to occupational and physical therapy. We provide people with heating grants as intolerance to cold is a real issue for polio survivors. Really it's a wide range of supports that we offer." 

Fran spoke about the 30th anniversary of the organisation. He said, "One of the challenges we face with that is that there are no longer any of the founding members alive. That generation is gone now so we want to honour them and at the same time continue their legacy. That's what we are trying to achieve this year - it's both marking their contribution and what they did for their fellow polio survivors but it's also ensuring that their legacy continies and that's the hightlight of the events. It will be the strong emphasis at our conference later in the year in Carlow." 

Fran also addressed the stigma that has often been felt by polio survivors - even to this day. 

He also spoke about polio survivors feeling like they are the forgotten population left behind suffering the terrible effects of the disease. He spoke about the bitter sweet feeling survivors have who just missed out on the vaccine but who are at the same time so grateful that today's children do not have to be afraid of polio because of the vaccine. 

Listen to Fran's interview here

Watch Fran's CEO Tik Tok Postcard here  

The History of Polio in Ireland 

There are many historical resources about the history of polio in Ireland.

Polio Survivors Ireland has its own publications, particularly Polio & Us (read online) along with How We Survived and Surprised (available for purchase), which give great insight into the personal stories and recollections of polio survivors in Ireland.

26 March 2023 actually marked a significant anniversary in the history of polio. It was the 70th anniversary of the announcement, on radio,  that Dr. Jonas Salk had successfully tested a vaccine for polio on himself and his family. This news that Salk had tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis, the virus that causes the disease of polio, was the beginning of the end to the epidemics of polio that had devastated so many communities and families throughout the Western world.

Without Salk’s self-sacrifice, willingness and belief in the work he had undertaken, we may not have this vaccine for polio today. This vaccine ensures that polio remains at bay and so very near to eradication. The work that Jonas Salk completed also paved the way for the future development of vaccines. 

For more see www.polio.ie