HICKORY – The Thursday Rotary Club of Hickory is working to set up a group to help survivors of polio and other similar diseases.

Polio’s place in the area’s history was cemented in the June 1944 “Miracle of Hickory.”

In response to a polio epidemic, the City of Hickory, with assistance from some outside groups, transformed a camp into a polio hospital that would serve 454 children.

Between the time the hospital opened in 1944 and its closure in 1945, there were only 12 deaths, a rate lower than any other “polio facility at the time,” according to an exhibit in the Lyerly House.

A group of polio survivors gathered at the Lyerly House on Tuesday to view “Miracle,” a documentary about the event produced by Catawba Valley Community College professor Richard Eller.

The gathering was the second such meeting, with the first occurring last month around the time of the 72nd anniversary of the event.

Susie Fender, a polio survivor who is part of the Land of the Sky Post-Polio Support group, spoke of the support that polio survivors can find by becoming part of a group.

“Because there's so few people in Hickory that know, or in the area that can identify with you because there’s not a whole lot of us left, really, but the ones that are, we are a unique group. So it’s really important to get together and get to know each other,” Fender said.

The goal is to set up a regular meeting group that allows those survivors to meet, socialize and gain valuable medical information.

Polio survivors can have challenges since many doctors are unaware of how to deal with the needs of survivors of the disease.

Fender handed out medical cards that alert medical professionals about the dangers that succinylcholine, a muscle relaxer used during surgeries, can pose to polio survivors.

Kay Norris, who contracted polio in June 1944 at around the age of 18 months, has struggled throughout life with effects from the disease.

Norris has had her own problems during medical procedures.

At one time, Norris went into the hospital to deal with atrial fibrillation.

“What was to be an overnight hospital stay turned into five days,” Norris said.

The after effects of polio differ for different survivors. About 25 to 40 percent of polio survivors have Post-Polio Syndrome, a condition of muscle weakness and fatigue that can develop years or decades after the initial case, according to the CDC. In addition, cases of post-polio syndrome vary in the degree of debilitation.

In addition to polio survivors and their caregivers, the group also will be open to those suffering with similar diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis.

The next meeting will be Aug. 16 at 11:30 a.m. at the Lyerly House. It is supposed to be an organizing meeting for the group at which people will be able to introduce themselves and tell their stores, the Rev. Susan Walker of the Rotary Club, said.

For more information about the group, call Walker of the Thursday Rotary Club at 828-962-8196.

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