Post-polio syndrome a challenge for former Baraga village resident

Pictured are Bruce and Dianne, his second wife. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

Last week’s article discussed former Baraga resident Bruce E. Sachs, who contracted polio as a 13-month-old boy in August 1940.

Bruce was treated at St. Luke’s Hospital in Marquette where he was placed in one of the makeshift iron lungs made from a clean oil drum, developed by Max K. Reynolds.

Later he stayed at Bay Cliff Health Camp where he continued his rehabilitation. Bruce eventually learned to walk and had a prominent teaching career in Livonia.

But as Bruce approached age 60, he began losing strength in his polio-affected limbs. Sudden weakening in his “good” right arm required him to get help from colleagues to continue teaching for another five years until retirement.

He was diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) which is a late after-effect (at least 20 years following initial infection) of paralytic polio.

PPS is experienced by most polio survivors as they grow older. It can include disabling fatigue, pain and difficulty breathing and/or swallowing. It also induces increased muscle weakness in limbs obviously weakened by the original polio infection, as well as in muscles thought to be spared.

Bruce became an active member of, and attended conferences held by Post-Polio Health International (PHI). PHI is the oldest and largest education and advocacy organization serving worldwide polio survivors. (See https://post-polio.org/)

After both retirement and the death of his first wife, Diane, Bruce began his extensive personal study of PPS and other later life effects of polio. Almost immediately, he learned that he needed to change his approach to physical activity from ‘Use It or Lose It’ to ‘Conserve It to Preserve It.’ Employing this succinct medical recommendation, he soon chose to go places riding in an electric cart as opposed to walking long distances.

Bruce became involved with his fellow polio survivors. He joined the Southeast Michigan Post-Polio Support Group and found an opportunity to use his educational and leadership skills with the statewide Michigan Polio Network, serving as its chairperson for 12 years. He also met and married Dianne, a fellow polio survivor, who became a co-leader and vibrant partner in all things post-polio.

In 2006, Bay Cliff Health Camp began offering five-day Post-Polio Health and Wellness Retreats as a way of honoring and continuing to serve its older post-polio alumni. Bruce and Dianne (see picture) enthusiastically journeyed back to Bruce’s beloved “old stomping grounds” in Marquette County.

The couple became key contributors to all the ensuing retreats through the final one in 2021. Many post-polio Yoopers attended these retreats, including well-known locals Cliff Frenn, Paul Churchville, Paul Blemberg, Donna Boyd, John Parlin and Joan Reynolds Miller, the granddaughter of Max K. Reynolds.

At the 2006 evening fireside program, wide-eyed retreat campers eagerly listened to local historian, Fred Rydholm, who worked at Bay Cliff during the winter of 1940-41.

He shared his personal memories of how children recovering from polio were cared for while accommodated in Bay Cliff’s grand, time-honored farmhouse (fondly called ‘the Big House’).

He recollected that after a violent autumn storm had blown down numerous trees on the property, he was unexpectedly able to industriously gather and stockpile an overabundance of firewood. It almost seemed that Mother Nature had generously provided a gift from the blustery shores of Lake Superior to help the kids heal.

That one storm provided enough wood to easily warm the Big House all winter long for the 30 children who were there for intensive care. Fred’s stories overflowed with heartfelt love for the children.

As Fred recalled trimming hair for children during their lengthy stay that long-ago winter, Bruce comically guessed that one of those lucky, good-looking kids must have been him.

Bruce died recently at age 82, more than 80 years after he first contracted polio. Thanks to the work of Max K. Reynolds and many others in the Marquette community who helped Bruce breathe as an infant, he was able to live a long and productive life, giving back immeasurably to people in Michigan’s U.P. and influencing innumerable others in so many positive ways.

Editor’s note: Frederick Maynard is a retired physician specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Sunny Roller, a polio survivor, is a retired teacher, writer and educator on post-polio issues. They both became friends with Bruce through their work with MPN and Bay Cliff Health Camp. They both serve on the board of directors for PHI.


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