Posted on May 12, 2023

Polio Survivor Returns to Mary Free Bed Six Decades Later

In April, James Sloan returned to Mary Free Bed for the first time since he was a child. At 7 years old, James was diagnosed with polio. He spent a week at Mary Free Bed recovering and getting fitted for custom leg braces and crutches.

Returning to Mary Free Bed 60 years later inspired James to reflect on his time here and how much has changed since then. In efforts to revive memories from his childhood stay, James and his wife Debra took a walk down memory lane to view the Mary Free Bed photo archives.

That’s when they discovered an old photograph of James they’d never seen before.

“We knew it was James when we realized he was holding a toy truck,” said Debra. “We just screamed. There was no other way to respond.”

For James, finding this photo reminds him of a pivotal moment in his childhood that still impacts his life today.

“It is one thing to be able to tell others what I have been through, but it is another thing to have proof of what it was actually like,” said James.

Like most kids diagnosed with polio at the time, James wasn’t expected to walk, run or ride a bike again. But James was a motived little boy, and polio didn’t hold him back.

“I lived on my bike, rain or shine,” said James. “I would hang up my braces on the handlebars and spend the entire day riding. It gave me the strength to walk without using braces and crutches.”

James credits Mary Free Bed for giving him the motivation and ability to walk so many years ago and to God for giving him the desire to move.

“Because of Mary Free Bed, I’ve walked all my life,” said James.

James returned to Mary Free Bed this spring for cancer rehabilitation care and treatment. The impact that Mary Free Bed had on James when he was child remains – he’s motivated to recover and has a deep appreciation for the importance of living a happy life.

Mary Free Bed may look a little different than it did six decades ago but our mission remains, to restore hope and freedom, and to heal with our hands and treat with our hearts.

History of Polio at Mary Free Bed

Throughout the course of history, Mary Free Bed has filled to capacity when polio outbreaks struck the US. In the 1950s, after an international polio pandemic struck 57,626 people in the U.S. alone, polio patients made up the largest portion of Mary Free Bed Hospital’s inpatients and accounted for the bulk of its local case work. Youngsters with polio generally stayed longer than others and often returned for additional therapy.

Up until the 1960s, it was common practice to separate patients with physical disabilities, so parents saw very little of their hospitalized children. The influx of children with polio led to significant changes in programming that exist to this date – in particular, the establishment of more family-oriented care. Hospital leaders believed that treatment must be provided for the entire person – not just the condition or disability. It was a new philosophy that guides our hospital to this day.