The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

April 28, 2014

Living with polio

Woman lauds March of Dimes, cites independence

SHENANGO VALLEY — Looking back at the last 60 years of living with polio, Phyllis Lowrey focuses little on the paralysis that changed her life; instead, she has tried to campaign and support the organization she says saved her family from financial ruin from her medical bills.

Founded 75 years ago, at the height of the polio outbreak, the March of Dimes organization was committed to helping find a vaccine and assisting those already afflicted with the disease that often leads to devastating paralysis, including, at that time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Lowrey, who at age 15 was the youngest of three girls, and “an ardent rollerskater” had no idea what was happening to her one summer when she quickly began to lose the use of her arms and legs.

She had been swimming at a family reunion and within days, her legs hurt her day and night. A week later, she was dragging her left leg, she said. Shortly, she couldn’t stand at all.

“I had no idea what polio was. Even after they told me what I had, I didn’t know,” she said. Mercer County suffered a polio outbreak in 1953 that affected 75 people in two months.

“There was a whole ward of us up at what was then Buhl Hospital. About four or five died,” the Sharon woman said.

Doctors at that time told Lowrey she likely ingested a contaminated fly while swimming. “I really don’t know how I got it. I guess I thought that was possible,” she said.

Research has since shown that polio is contracted through contact with body secretions and, more commonly, found in infected feces. The National Institute of Public Health suggested polio was on the rise in the 1940s and 1950s as better sanitation systems were developed. Very young children exposed to contamination early on developed an immunity, but older children who were never exposed never developed an immunity, according to the website.

Lowrey spent 285 days in the  hospital, much of it in isolation, and was told she likely wouldn’t live past age 30 and wouldn’t have children.

The medical bills were more than $10,000. Her father was raising a family on $70 a week he earned working in receiving at the former Westinghouse plant. “It was tough, let me tell you. And he missed a lot of work taking care of me,” she said.

“But the March of Dimes stepped up. And boy did they. My parents were talking about selling the house; they didn’t know what to do. The March of Dimes paid all of it but $1,000. It was a godsend,” she said.

She met Mike Lowrey when she was 24. “And I was sitting in a car and I told him “‘I can’t walk’” and he said ‘so what?’ He just accepted it like it was nothing,” she said.

Now widowed at age 75, with two “children sent straight from heaven,” grandchildren and great-grandchilden, she isn’t able to go out and support the organization as she once did, though she still does financially when she can.

She has been in a wheelchair since she was 15. “But there’s really not anything I can’t do. I’m very independent.”

“But I wanted to get this story out about the March of Dimes and the good they do. I know they saved my family,” she said.

Text Only
Local News
  • Police: Kids in car were OK

    The mother of two young children was drunk and passed out when police found them all in a car parked along a city street, Sharon police said.

    July 29, 2014

  • To talk – or not – about police

    The mysterious agenda item, “No. 10,” at Farrell’s council meeting Monday became the center of a heated workshop and business session.

    July 29, 2014

  • Community thanks its first-responders

    Sharpsville honored its emergency responders Sunday at an event that included Mertz Towers residents as special guests.

    July 28, 2014

  • Drilling boom challenges state inspectors

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 28, 2014

  • Kidds Mill Covered Bridge A span of time

    Four generations of the Cadman family have enjoyed the Kidds Mill Covered Bridge, which is in Pymatuning Township near where the family’s ancestral farm is located.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • Intruder hurts woman, takes $5

    A home invasion in Hermitage Friday night sent an elderly woman to the hospital and netted the robber $5.

    July 27, 2014

  • national night out March against crime set for Aug. 5

    At the last Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Commission meeting, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. presented the number of incidents for each of the four communities in May.

    Farrell topped out at 819.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • high street trail Peaceful pathways

    History buffs and picnickers in the Shenango Valley won’t have to drive to Sharpsville to hang out at the old Erie Canal extension lock. They’ll soon have the option to walk or roll in on bicycles and even powered chairs to visit Canal Park near the outflow of Shenango Dam.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • balloonquest1 Balloon Quest celebrates 25 years

    Today is the final day of the 25th annual Western Pennsylvania Balloon Quest at Scotland Meadows Park.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from July 26, 2014

    Man faces bomb threat charges

    June building tops $4 million in Hermitage

    July 26, 2014

  • Elderly man survives plane crash

    An elderly man survived wrecking his plane into a bank, then landing into a wetland, about 200 feet south of Runway 28 at Grove City Regional Airport in Springfield Township on Friday.

    July 26, 2014

  • Dontae Rashad Pinkins Man arrested for April gunfight

    Federal marshals and local police arrested Dontae Rashad Pinkins Thursday on a warrant accusing him of involvement in an April gunfight with another man in a Sharon alley.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hearing changed in starving case

    The time and place for the preliminary hearing of a Greenville mom accused of starving and beating her 7-year-old young son has been changed.

    July 26, 2014

  • Schell working on mural Drawn to Mexico

    Jason Schell probably is not exaggerating when he says that millions of people have seen his art.

    July 26, 2014 4 Photos

  • Farrell man, 24, arrested on warrant in connection with April shooting

    Federal marshals and local police arrested Dontae Rashad Pinkins Thursday on a warrant accusing him of involvement in an April shootout in Sharon.

    Pinkins, 24, of Farrell, is in Mercer County Jail after failing to post bond on gun charges.

    Additional details to follow.

    July 25, 2014