The life-altering news was broken at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois.

The year was 1951, and 9-month-old Richard Hardine's parents had taken him to the hospital after he had woken up crying abnormally.

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At the hospital, Hardine's parents received the news that their child had been diagnosed with anterior bulbar poliomyelitis. The disease, also known as polio, is a viral infection of the spinal cord that can lead to paralysis. It was common before a vaccine was developed in 1955.

The next year and a half of Hardine's life would be spent in temporary paralysis and in an iron lung. Then, after the paralysis began to lift, he would undergo 18 surgeries through the course of his life to correct the havoc polio had wreaked on his lower body, the legs in particular.


Shortly after Hardine's diagnosis. the paralysis began to set in. Because of muscle loss in the torso, Hardine needed help breathing. It was for this reason that he was put in an iron lung, which is a negative and positive pressure ventilator that allows a person to breathe when they have lost normal muscle control.

"The pressure in there basically increases and decreases to help you breathe," Hardine said. "As a 9-month-old it kind of worked. There was no other safe place to put me to help me breathe at that time."

Paralysis as a result of polio is considered ascending-descending, meaning that it may leave a person paralyzed for a certain amount of time, but then the paralysis will begin to lift. This was the case for Hardine.

"My left side became unparalyzed first so that's my strongest side, and then my right side," he said. "In the process of that year-and-a-half paralyzed, muscles will atrophy, or basically die off. I lost a lot of muscle in my legs."

In fact, Hardine's quadriceps died completely. In 1954, he had nine-hour surgeries done on both legs to help provide leg extension.

"That was back when they used ether (for anesthesia during surgeries)," Hardine said. "What nail polish remover smells like, that's what ether smells like. I won't have any of that in the house. They would put it on a metal mask like a strainer, put gauze all over it and put ether on top, and you'd breathe that in."

In the coming years, Hardine would go on to have many more surgeries on his legs. Through sixth grade, he spent the summers in wedging casts, which work to keep the legs straight. When the casts came off in the winter, it was time for physical therapy.

"My mom would have to do six hours of therapy every day," Hardine said. "She would put my leg up on a sandbag and she would press on the knee to stretch muscles."

Though Hardine's muscles were weak, he was able to walk and take part in activities with his peers.

"The way I would walk was more of a controlled forward fall, then whip my legs around," he said. "I got used to that and that's all I really knew. It didn't stop me from doing a lot of stuff."

Hardine credits his parents for pushing him to do things on his own despite his limitations.

"Through the course of childhood, my mother would get a hard time from her friends," he said. "We would go some place, and I'd be down and have casts or braces on, and if I wanted a toy over there, I had to go get it. Mom's friends always gave her a hard time, like, 'Don't do that to him, go get the toy for him.' Looking back, the older I get, the more thankful I am for what they did and what they went through."


After graduating from high school, Hardine went on to get his degree in physical therapy. While working in Illinois, he met his wife, Karen, an occupational therapist. The two eventually moved to a home on Lake Ida.

But 15 years ago, knowing that because of the polio, his body would continue to weaken, Hardine designed and built a home to be completely wheelchair accessible.

Now age 66, Hardine is in a wheelchair and is noticing the effects of post-polio syndrome. Such effects include loss of nerves that help maintain muscle control.

"When someone has polio, it affects the motor nerves, not the sensory nerves," said Karen, Hardine's wife. "So it's nerve-related, but the muscle loss is the outcome of the problems with the nerves."

Hardine has had many years to reflect on polio and the effects it had on his body, but he says he never dwelled on it.

"I wondered why but I didn't harp on it," he said. "I didn't get depressed over it. In college, I started realizing, 'Well, I really don't know what it is like to run. I never had a need to run, so I'm not losing anything.'"

One of the most difficult aspects of post-polio syndrome for Hardine was realizing that sooner or later he would need to be in a wheelchair permanently.

"The biggest problem my age is male ego," he said. "Getting in a wheelchair and going out in public, I'm getting better at that. For some psychological reasons, there's reasons I won't go places because I am in a wheelchair. But it's gotten better."

Hardine says looking to the future is difficult because he knows he will continue to get weaker and less mobile.

"Now all of a sudden you're at this age and you're getting weaker," he said. "You know what the end result is going to be. It's a gradual progression into that. ... Living into this period now is difficult."

The idea of becoming immobile is something that Hardine struggles with.

"I'm not the type of person, based on personality, that I want to sit around and not do anything," he said. "And I'm damn sure not going to lay around and not do anything."

According to Hardine, this attitude is typical of those who battle polio, and that he plans to continue to fight the disease.

Hardine said polio patients "don't want to give up, this is all they know, this is their journey."


Polio is a viral infection of the spinal cord that can lead to paralysis and even death. It is spread by contact between people.

In the 1950s, the U.S. had the worst poliomyelitis endemic in the country's history. Ninety percent of those with polio did not have symptoms. But the other 10 percent faced larger consequences such as paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs), meningitis and paralysis.

In 1952 alone, 58,000 cases were reported. Of those cases, 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with varying degrees of paralysis.

In 1955, a safe and effective vaccine against the virus was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, and the number of cases began to steadily drop.

Today, the World Health Organization estimates that there are 10 to 20 million polio survivors.