A SUPPORT network which has helped polio sufferers on Wearside is celebrating a milestone.
The British Polio Fellowship is 75 years old this Friday.
The organisation’s Sunderland and District Branch was opened in 1953 after major epidemics of the illness in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Polio is a virus which attacks the neurological nervous system and can prevent limbs from growing and leave some paralysed.
The Sunderland group meet monthly to discuss the impact their condition has on their lives and also offer support to each other.
Chairman of the Sunderland branch, Shirley Williams, a polio sufferer, said the branch is as important as ever to those affected by the disease.
Shirley, 67, of Hendon, was diagnosed at just 15 months old and says being part of the group helped her overcome the illness.
She said: “In those days there weren’t a lot of support groups for people with disabilities.
“But the branch was fantastic because it helped us get on with our lives.
“I managed to put my polio to one side, even though I had certain restrictions, and be as normal as possible like other children.”
Brian Richardson was just 18 months old when he was diagnosed with polio in 1953.
The illness affected his right leg and foot, which stopped growing, leaving his muscles weak.
He then had to have operations on his leg until he was 10.
After years of normal health, four years ago he discovered that he was suffering from post polio syndrome.
Only recently has Brian been involved with the fellowship, but admits it has been a Godsend.
“I didn’t know that the polio fellowship existed until my wife happened by chance to meet Shirley,” said Brian, who lives in the Chester Road area.
“I’ve been a member now for about two years and have been attending the meetings regularly.
“This has been of great benefit to me as it has made me realise there are more people like myself.
“I’ve made new friends and found the support that we give each other has been invaluable.”
The Sunderland Branch of the British Polio Fellowship holds a social evening at The Rosedene, in Ashbrooke, this Friday starting at 6pm.
The group meet at 1.30pm on the first Tuesday of every month at Pennywell Community Centre, in Portsmouth Road.
For more details about the branch, call Shirley Williams on 565 6135.