By Ade Adepitan, polio survivor, United Kingdom broadcaster, and former Paraylmpian.
I contracted polio at the age of 15 months while living in Lagos, Nigeria. I had been given two drops of the polio vaccine, but the virus caught me before I had the third and final drop which would have protected me for life.
My Mum told me I’d started trying to stand like all toddlers. I’ve seen pictures of myself standing using a baby walker. I reckon my Mum, Christianah, would have been very excited watching her first boy learning to walk. Knowing my Mum, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was already planning my future, deciding who she thought I would marry, and what profession I would take up.
I don’t know when my Mum was finally told I had polio, and I can’t imagine how this would’ve made her feel.
Then one day I came down with a fever I was rushed to hospital the doctors thought I had measles. Up until the age of about ten I had a bumpy sort of rash on the upper part of my left thigh. Apparently this rash flared up the same night I got the fever and was probably the reason why my high temperature was seen as the beginnings of a bout of measles. I was injected with an anaesthetic and after spending a night in hospital the next day, I woke with my left leg starting to look withered and significantly thinner than my right. This was a tell tale sign of polio and soon after this I stopped trying to walk. I don’t know when my Mum was finally told I had polio and I can’t imagine how this would’ve made her feel.
It must have been an incredibly difficult time. My father was in London studying and gaining valuable qualifications that would improve his job opportunities when he returned to Nigeria.
All of these plans must have crumbled before my Dads’ eyes, when an airmail letter arrived through the post in his rented flat in East London. The letter was from my Mum and it said Doyin (that’s what my family calls me) has polio and we must make plans to bring him to England. I think most people in Nigeria knew somebody who had, or had been affected by polio back in the 70’s. So my Dad’s heart must have sunk when he saw those five letters that spelt that awful word.
Didn’t you get a sugar lump (with the polio vaccine) when you were at school they ask? I did, but it came three years too late.
From an early age I always felt I had to be successful, I owed it to my parents. They left their friends’ family and my older sister who had Downs Syndrome (I didn’t know this until she came to England 9 years later) back in Nigeria. I even told my parents that I was going to become a doctor and one day I would discover the cure for polio.
I never became a doctor but earlier this year I finally got a chance to play a part in the fight against polio. In January I flew to Lagos to make a documentary about polio in Nigeria for the UK broadcaster Channel 4.
I went to find out why it was the only country in Africa where polio was still endemic. I also wanted to know what my life might have been like if my parents hadn’t brought me to the UK. My second question had a clear-cut answer; life would’ve been extremely tough. Even Nigeria’s successful Paralympic power lifting team found life difficult, the whole team had been affected by polio, it was strange to think that 37 years after I’d left Nigeria children were still getting polio. In the UK people are usually shocked to discover that I contracted polio as a child. Didn’t you get a sugar lump (with the polio vaccine) when you were at school they ask? I did, but it came three years too late.
Used with permission from the Impatient Optimists, where it appeared as the first of a four-part series. Throughout October, we are featuring stories from polio survivors, experts, and volunteers working alongside us to eradicate polio, in honor of World Polio Day 24 October. Find out how you can make a difference by:
- Visiting the World Polio Day: Making History Livestream page to add the event to your calendar.
- Embedding the Livestream video player on your website or Facebook page.
- Downloading a World Polio Day toolkit for sample social media posts and graphics.
- Adding a World Polio Day: Making History cover photo to your Facebook page.
- Reading blog posts from other polio survivors