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The Ugly Brown Shoes: A Polio Survivor’s Story

Brown Shoes Polio SurivorMadelyn grew up in Berryville, Virginia and was stricken with polio at the same time as two other children in her hometown. At nine years old, she was sent to a hospital in Richmond where she was quarantined.

She was paralyzed on her entire left side and had to have physical therapy for more than a year. The doctor told her parents she would never walk again. Madelyn’s father made a special pulley system for leg exercises and carried her to the tub for daily hot water baths. She knew that she was “different” from other kids and that made her feel shy. Her dad even had to carry her upstairs to her 4th grade classroom.

Madelyn wore special brown leather lace-up wedged oxford shoes through high school and remembers how unstylish and ugly they were. She recalls the first time she wore heeled shoes for a piano recital and how good it felt to finally get a pair of two-toned saddle oxford shoes that looked normal once she graduated high school.

Sports were a challenge and Madelyn was often the last one chosen for a team in gym class. She never did learn to run well so it was awkward trying to play softball and get around the bases when she finally did hit the ball.

She recalls getting the polio vaccine in about 6th grade even though her mother initially resisted, scared that it would cause Madelyn to get polio again. The doctor assured her that it would help prevent a different strain of the virus. She remembers the vaccine being taken orally on a sugar cube.

Madelyn recognizes that her own experience with physical challenges has made her intensely compassionate toward anyone in a wheelchair, handicapped or living in pain. People who were able to overcome physical disabilities through perseverance have inspired her.

She has been motivated to live life without complaining and been grateful that her parents helped her get involved in piano, choir, and art. She continues to enjoy gardening and the opportunity to be creative with arranging flowers and doing crafts and has been told she has a knack for being able to take “nothing” and make “something” out of it.

Polio Survivor 1Madelyn Carol Ramsburg Weaver earned her degree in Interior Design from Virginia Polytechnical Institute. She has been married for more than 50 years, is a mother and grandmother, and maintains a strong Christian faith that she feels has helped her get through the challenges of being a polio survivor. Photo of the brown shoes by Danilo Mistroni.

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