Polio survivor speaks out about his life with the disease

By Tema Hemi

"I thought I was an ordinary kid until I reached school - when the other school kids started to give me nasty nicknames." Very hurtful were the memories polio survivor Phillip Rudolph remembers growing up in Manurewa, Auckland. In 1958, as a new-born baby Rudolph contracted the disease. His attempts to live a normal life were hindered because of his condition and led him to a turbulent life of crime. Since Rudolph has become a voice for other Polio survivors. 

Rudolph recalls loving to play sport but also recalls how he was treated as "being emotionally very painful".

Rudolph says, "It hurt! Because after the game I never got a pat. I had to stand in the corner and watch everyone else because they were able body people."

He had his first operation aged just 3 months to drain fluids from his body. Although one leg walked ok and the other didn't due to the effect of the virus.

Rudolph also says, "As I went to primary school, intermediate, I liked it. I was trying to learn, I didn't know that I had a disability until they started calling me 'hoppy' and that stuck with me. 

Rudolph's life started to spiral out of control as he ran away from school and home, got into petty crime and was in out of Boys Hostels. He eventually committed serious crime and served time in Paremoremo Prison. 

"I’ve been spat on, I’ve been picked on, I’ve been called all the names under the sun but I had to bite the bullet. Then I had to start learn how to forget about that and there's other things better. And I started to live without violence, Bernardo's, probation.”   

There are over twelve thousand Polio survivors in New Zealand. Polio, short for poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In most cases sufferers are not able to move certain limbs or areas. 

Professor Gareth Parry says, "New infections are now very rare indeed and almost always in immigrants who have come from an endemic area, there are still a few endemic areas. So native New Zealanders are not going to get Polio today."

New Zealand experienced polio epidemics in 1916 to 1956. Polio is typically a disease of children and adolescents, but the risk of paralysis increases markedly with the age.

Parry also says, "People who have had Polio in the past are still amongst us and they are still getting the effects of the disease and sometimes actually getting progressive worsening of their clinical condition. 

Rudolph says in closing, "I would like to give back. I would like to talk about men are changing their lives around."

Rudolph now resides in Tauranga to be closer to his kids and continues to live a violent free life. He says he still struggles with pain to his right leg as a result of his condition.