Polio survivor backs big swim
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.