Valentine’s Day is so sweet for Sunderland couple brought together by Polio Fellowship

Rob Howell and Shirley Russell who haver found love through the British Polio Fellowship.
Rob Howell and Shirley Russell who haver found love through the British Polio Fellowship.
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Love is just as wonderful second time around for Bob Howell and Shirley Russell.

The pair are celebrating ten years together after meeting through The British Polio Fellowship.

Rob Howell and Shirley Russell who haver found love through the British Polio Fellowship.

Rob Howell and Shirley Russell who haver found love through the British Polio Fellowship.

Bob and Shirley were both previously married and got together after losing their respective spouse.

He was married to wife Margaret for 31 years, while Shirley and husband Jack were together for more than 40.

“I have been lucky enough to find a lady to share my life with,” said Bob, 66.

“We have been together since 2008. We have both lost loved ones and know what it is like to be on our own, so we make the most of our time together.”

We just had what they call ‘simpatico’. We gravitated to each other very quickly.

Bob Howell

Now the couple are backing a Valentine’s Day drive by the national charity to let anyone who has Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) know there is no need to be lonely.

Bob, a former BT engineer, wears a Knee Ankle Foot Orthosis (Kafo), a device that is used to control instabilities in the knee and lower limb, after contracting polio when he was little more than a baby.

“I was 20 months of age,” he said. “The end result of what happened is that I have an affected right leg and wear a Kafo. It is a bit more sophisticated than what in the past would have been called a calliper.”

Shirley, who worked as an NHS administrator at the then Sunderland General Hospital, also had polio when younger and it was their membership of the Polio Fellowship which brought the couple together.

Bob recalls there was an immediate spark when they met: “We just had what they call ‘simpatico’,” he said.

“We gravitated to each other very quickly.”

Now the couple divide their time between Bob’s home in Millfield and Shirley’s in South Hylton.

“We are LATs - Living Apart Together,” joked Bob.

“We both stay at each other’s houses at times of the week - she comes to me, I go to her.”

Bob and Margaret had no children but he has been welcomed into the family by Shirley’s daughter Gillian and grandsons Jason and Robert.

“I really enjoy going to see Shirley’s family,” he said.

“We have most Christmases together and sometimes New Year. They have made me really welcome.”

The love the copule share is precious to both of them: “It means we are not lonely, we have companionship, we have always got somebody to be with,” said Bob.

“Having somebody is very important.”

The British Polio Fellowship is a charity dedicated to helping, supporting and empowering those in the UK living with the late effects of Polio and Post Polio Syndrome (PPS).

National chairman David Mitchell said the eradication of the disease meant it was easy to forget how many people were still living with its consequences - and he appealed to anyone who was feeling lonely or isolated to get in touch.

“With Polio forgotten, it is easy for survivors living with PPS to feel abandoned, but the fact is, we are still here,” he said.

“We have around 10,000 active members, but with 120,000 living with PPS, there are thousands more out there we can help.

“From benefits advice and support, to a regular chat with a friendly voice, we are only a second away, if people will pick up the phone and let us help them.

“Our approach to members is proving a success, but non-members must make the first move.

“When people know the activities we are running locally, they often ask ‘can I come?’ We can’t promise romance, but there will be a warm welcome, and - unlike asking a Valentine for a date - people can be certain our answer will be a resounding, of course, yes.”

If you would like to join The British Polio Fellowship you can either join at www.britishpolio.org.uk or by calling 0800 043 1935. If these issues are affecting you, contact the charity and a team member will be happy to direct you to a local branch.

*Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) is a neurological condition which can occur in up to 80% of those who have had Polio. It is estimated that around 120,000 people in the UK are living with PPS today.

After an interval of several years of stability, individuals can develop increasing weakness, fatigue and pain in previously affected or unaffected muscles, a general reduction in stamina, breathing, sleeping and/or swallowing problems and cold intolerance.

PPS usually begins very slowly, although it can appear suddenly and often following triggers such as falls, surgery or immobility. There is no specific cure for PPS, but properly managed it may stabilise or only progress slowly and lessen the cost on the NHS whilst increasing the quality of life of those affected.

Much can be done to retain independence, including self-management strategies such as pacing and energy management, appropriate use of adaptive equipment, looking after your general health, and social and emotional support.