Po­lio sur­vivor backs big swim

Matamata Chronicle - - News - By KA­T­RINA LINTONBON

Even though many years have passed since Ian Wills was a po­lio suf­ferer, the mem­o­ries of the ex­pe­ri­ence are ones he will live with for­ever.

Ian Wills was 10 years old when he was struck down with the de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness.

‘‘ My par­ents were wor­ried be­cause I wasn’t eat­ing,’’ Mr Wills said.

‘‘I had a hearty ap­petite so they knew some­thing was wrong.’’

It was 1930 and a semiepi­demic had hit the Waikato. Many schools in the area had been closed.

Mr Wills’ par­ents called two doc­tors to their farm in Wal­ton to try and di­ag­nose him but they were un­able to work out what was wrong with him.

On the same day he was taken to a pri­vate hospi­tal.

‘‘I woke up and couldn’t lift my arms,’’ Mr Wills said.

‘‘That was when all hell broke loose.’’

They took Mr Wills straight to Waikato Hospi­tal and placed him in iso­la­tion.

‘‘ I can re­mem­ber be­ing in a room with an­other lit­tle girl who was hav­ing trou­ble breath­ing. She ended up dy­ing right there in that room, that was quite a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence for me.’’

It was also a very trau­matic time for Mr Wills’ par­ents who were only able to see their son by go­ing out­side and sit­ting on the lawn and wav­ing to him through the win­dow.

Mr Wills was then trans­ferred into a mar­quee where there were about 30 other po­lio suf­fer­ers. The mar­quee be­came his home for about three months.

‘‘I was in hospi­tal all up about six months. I missed out on that much school as well.’’

When Mr Wills re­turned to the farm in Wal­ton, his arms were in braces. ‘‘I have a photo of me with my arms in braces stick­ing up in the air,’’ he said.

‘‘My fa­ther kept telling me to be care­ful and look af­ter my­self.’’

It wasn’t un­til Mr Wills was 17 years old that the true side ef­fects of be­ing a po­lio suf­ferer started to show.

While play­ing rugby for the Wal­ton/ngarua team he started get­ting pal­pi­ta­tions.

‘‘That was when they said I wasn’t al­lowed to play any more. So I started play­ing golf.’’

Life af­ter that was fairly nor­mal for Mr Wills who went on to marry the love of his life, Les­ley, and to­gether they had seven chil­dren.

At the age of 61, Mr Wills no­ticed that his left leg was start­ing to wither. He vis­ited a spe­cial­ist in Tau­ranga.

‘‘ He didn’t know what was wrong with me so I went to an­other place and was di­ag­nosed with post po­lio syn­drome. ‘‘

Post po­lio syn­drome is a dis­or­der that af­fects 50 per cent of po­lio suf­fer­ers and can make limbs sud­denly be­come weak.

Mr Wills started play­ing out­door bowls and be­came a bit of a gun, win­ning the ju­nior and se­nior sec­tion Waikato Thames Val­ley ti­tle.

Mr Wills is an hon­orary Ro­tar­ian who joined the ser­vice club in 1961 and has been recog­nised as a Paul Har­ris Fel­low. He is also a mem­ber of the Post Po­lio So­ci­ety.

Al­ways look­ing on the bright side of life is one of Mr Wills’ key philoso­phies and he loves spend­ing time in the gar­den even though he can’t walk very far.

He also shared a love of mu­sic with his wife that stems from when they were both at school.

‘‘For those of us who have had po­lio, we will never for­get the won­der­ful ef­forts of Ro­tary to end it,’’ he said

‘‘ I think the Swimarathon is mar­vel­lous, I would love to be able to do it.’’

Sur­vivor: Hon­orary Ro­tar­ian and po­lio sur­vivor Ian Wills thinks the Mata­mata Ro­tary Club’s in­volve­ment in the Global Swimarathon is mar­vel­lous. Mr Wills loves spend­ing time in his gar­den.

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