Prosthetist Mark Taylor’s own bout with polio brings a special touch of care to U-M’s post-polio clinic
Once a week, University of Michigan certified orthotist/prosthetist Mark K. Taylor, MLS, C.P.O, helps treat people for a disease that was declared dead in the U.S. years ago.
Many of his patients – now in their sixties or older – were the children of the 1950’s polio epidemic.
Today they suffer from joint pain, loss of balance, fatigue and weakened muscles that hinder daily activities like brushing teeth, climbing stairs, getting into a car or walking – a phenomenon known as post-polio syndrome. The U-M Orthotics and Prosthetics Center’s post-polio clinic is among few places in the region offering highly specialized therapy for these patients.
Taylor, 60, brings a special passion to this rare clinic. At nine months of age, before he was even old enough to walk, his left leg was paralyzed by polio.
“People don’t realize that we are still here,” Taylor says of polio patients. “Many people are still feeling the effects of polio or are experiencing symptoms for the first time decades later.
“Polio really affected my family and I’m finding that many of my patients’ stories are similar to mine. I understand where they’re coming from and how important it is to them to maintain independence and mobility.”
The summer of 1952 was heartbreaking for Taylor’s family who lived on a farm in Southern Idaho at the peak of the U.S. polio outbreak. Not only did Taylor’s mother learn her baby boy had polio – but her husband, Taylor’s father, lost his own battle with the disease.
Taylor, who uses a brace to walk, was told at age 25 that he’d be lucky if he was still mobile at 40. But as he says “I’ve cheated that by 20 years so far,” which he credits to orthotic interventions.
Post-polio syndrome affects up to half of people after the initial infection, with symptoms sometimes surfacing 15–30 years later and progressively attacking muscle strength. A sliver of patients at U-M are younger than 30, born in a country without the vaccine, and who came to the U.S. through adoption or other situations.
At three years old, Kathryn Hall contracted polio in her native country of England. She was separated from her family for three months of quarantine and one of her legs was four inches shorter than the other, which was ultimately corrected by surgery.
Hall, of Lakeland, Mich., said weak muscles in her left leg triggered chronic neck and back pain. She found relief at U-M through orthotics that provide extra support and ease muscle strains.
“It’s been tremendously helpful, lessened the pain and changed the way I walk,” the communications manager, gardener and golfer, now 64, says of the therapy. “I could have a fuller life.
“It’s especially wonderful to have someone who knows what it means to go through this,” she adds of Taylor, who supports clinical assistant professor Ann Laidlaw, M.D. with the post-polio clinic. “This clinic is a refuge for me, the only place I could come and find people who know what I’m dealing with and how to help.”
Each year, the clinic offers hundreds of patients, prosthetics and orthotics, from crutches and walkers to braces, scooters and special shoes. Experts also provide physical therapy and help guide patients through the emotional challenges of post-polio syndrome.
“These are all patients who succeeded and thrived in life and slowing down can be devastating because they’re used to their independence,” Taylor says. “They want to do everything as good as or better than everyone else. We want to help them achieve that goal for as long as possible.”
The U-M Orthotics and Prosthetics Center celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. For more information on the center, visit their website.