The Archbishop of Chicago resumes limited duties this week and full schedule Oct. 1, after having undergone an operation to remove his cancerous bladder. The 69-year-old cardinal had contracted polio in his youth, at age 13, and still wears a leg brace to support his muscles that were damaged by the illness.
Janet Felde, 58, also a polio survivor, told the Chicago Tribune that she considers the cardinal “an amazing example” and will be following the cardinal’s progress with a mix of pride and concern.
Felde’s concern is legitimate as medical experts say the residual impact of polio compounds effects of aging and later-life illnesses.
It is also not unusual for some polio survivors to suffer after-effects diagnosed as "post-polio syndrome." More than 300,000 Americans may suffer from this condition, which typically surfaces 15 to 30 years after an initial episode of polio.
Dr. James Sliwa, a polio and cancer rehab specialist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, told the Tribune that a real risk for the cardinal would be “a significant decline in his functional status, due to the combined effect of the cancer and the earlier polio.”
The challenge for Cardinal George, the doctor suggested, will be to balance the need for activity with the need to conserve energy and prevent muscle overuse.
Colleen Dolan, a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, told the newspaper that the cardinal exercises daily to keep muscles in his legs and trunk in shape.
There are about 1.6 million American polio survivors, including 640,000 who had a more severe, paralytic form of the infectious illness. Polio largely disappeared from the U.S. after the Salk vaccine became available in the mid-1950s.
.- Polio survivors consider Cardinal Francis George a hero, according to a recent report in the Chicago Tribune.