This link—www.ninds.nih.gov/index.htm—is to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, which has a very informative info page on the devastating post-polio syndrome (PPS).
The medical “facts” proffered by Susan Voorhees are inaccurate [“The Once and Future Sting: Polio Survivors Regroup to Face New Challenge,” Xpress, June 27], and a licensed professional should know better than to misinform the public in this manner. The polio virus specifically attacks the anterior horn cells of the spinal cord. These nerve cells innervate the muscles, and the loss of this nervous innervation causes the typical paralysis that is seen in acute polio. With recovery, the remaining horn cells not destroyed initially pick up the slack by increasing their attachments to the muscles, and by a process similar to hypertrophy. With age, there is a normal loss of these horn cells; those who have had polio have no reserve and begin to suffer a slow and gradual weakening of the skeletal muscles because of lack of nervous innervation. The muscles themselves atrophy from lack of innervation from the nerves, rather than from a direct effect of the polio.
The statement that the muscles “wear out” is ludicrous. Exercise aimed at endurance (walking) as opposed to strength (weightlifting) can be helpful to many patients.
I have treated quite a few patients with post-polio syndrome, and it saddens me when a newspaper of your quality so badly misinforms the public. I think that you should print a correction. On the other hand, kudos for bringing an important issue to the public’s attention.
— Michael Cummings, M.D.
Writer Brian Postelle responds: In my interviews with Susan Voorhees, she described to me the process by which horn cells overcompensate and are depleted, resulting in post-polio syndrome. Perhaps mistakenly, I chose not to delve too far into those medical details in a mainstream publication, but that omission was mine, not Voorhees’. She did, however, speak to the fact that, without knowing the nature of post-polio, many survivors had overworked muscles that do not recover as expected under normal conditions. Other responses to this article do indicate that it has served as a catalyst for getting the word out about the resource group, and Dr. Cummings’ particular expertise and experience indicate that he would make a valuable resource for the group.