Woman battles post-polio syndrome, gets help from JCC


Jill Abrams, a trainer at the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex, is a familiar face in the fitness center, and a smiling face at that, greeting and cheering on everyone who comes in the door. Abrams beams when she speaks of one client in particular. “Rosemary Wilson — she is a real success story here at the J. I am so proud of her,” says Abrams.

At the age of 5, Wilson was diagnosed with polio. As a result, Wilson’s left arm and leg became limp. At her weakest, she could not turn a light switch on or off. She took physical therapy treatments for six months. Three years ago, Wilson experienced symptoms of post-polio syndrome, a condition that affects polio survivors years after recovery from the initial diagnosis. With the syndrome comes weakening of muscles, fatigue and often, some pain.

One year ago in May, Wilson joined the J. She signed up to work with Sariya Saabye, the physical therapist who provides services at the J through St. Luke’s Hospital. “My dream was to achieve good mobility, be pain free and be as good as I can be,” says Wilson, 66. After just one month, Wilson began working with Abrams on strength training.

“Together, Sariya and Jill worked out a program to help me,” says Wilson. “I really appreciate that the J has a physical therapist in the building who can consult face-to-face with my trainer.” Wilson, a professional storyteller who owns her own business (see www.onefinestoryteller.com) took time recently to tell her success story.

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When did you first notice the signs of post-polio syndrome?

About three years ago, I noticed soreness in my right knee when I put weight on it. I am a retired registered nurse with a master’s degree, so I had a good idea what was going on.

What action did you take?

I looked up my symptoms on Web M.D. Then I went to my doctor, who agreed with my diagnosis. I was pessimistic that anything could be done after all these years. But last spring, when I toured the new building at the J, I spied the physical therapy office in the fitness center. I had always wanted to go to a gym and get a trainer, but I never had done that.

What happened next?

I decided what would be ideal would be to get evaluated by a physical therapist and then get a fitness trainer who could work with that therapist. I didn’t want to do any of this alone, because damage can be done if you push too far after polio. I signed up to see Sariya on June 4 of last year.

Was she pessimistic, too?

No — she was optimistic! We started on strengthening the major muscle groups. By the end of June, I had an appointment with Jill. The two worked together until I was discharged from physical therapy last August 4, and then I continued to work with Jill.

Has everything gone smoothly?

Late last fall, I was out picking up litter in my subdivision. I noticed the next day that my leg was sore again, though it was not as bad as it had been when I first started at the J. After a few sessions, Jill suggested I go back to physical therapy.

Was that a big setback?

No. In fact, Sariya was astonished at how quickly my body responded this time to therapy. My body has definitely benefited from the strength training. I was discharged from physical therapy in March.

What is your workout regimen now?

I meet with Jill once a week, and I work out on my own one or two other days. I do some table work – leg raises on my back and side, and clam shells. I use the Styrofoam blocks to exercise my legs. I use the machines to do leg presses and to strengthen abductor and adductor muscles. I use the lat pull-down and do some other arm exercises. Also I use the recumbent bike and I walk the track.

How do you feel?

My leg is a lot stronger. I am pain free again, and I move well, though I do still have some deficits in my left shoulder and arm, and I lack full range of motion.

What’s next for you?

Exercise prevents many health problems, and allows you to function in your life to the maximum. I just want to live to the best of my ability.

Rosemary Wilson

WORK: Professional storyteller

HOME: Olivette

FAMILY: Married to Paul, a retired accountant; one son, Darryl, who just completed his Ph.D. in organizational psychology

HOBBIES: Reading, equestrian events, Toastmasters

PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Beat polio as a child and has fended off post-polio syndrome as an adult