Topic: Jim Savage - Polio Sufferer 1958 and MBE Recipient and Paralympian

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In 1914 the vaccine against polio hadn’t been created. Today, polio has been eradicated in New Zealand due to immunisation. The effort to immunise all against disease continues.

Jim SavageI worked in Kawerau Mill, I was a farmer before that, but I worked in the Mill and had a day off and went hunting in the Taraweras. We went out overnight sleeping on a big high ridge and I couldn’t sleep. I had aching in the knees and the hips and I put it down to the rugby game I had played the day before when I had my tooth broken and I thought, ‘oh well it’s just the tough work I did at the rugby’. It started with aching in my knees and hips and I managed to put the sleeping bag over my knees and that stopped the aching. That was 3 o’clock. At 4 o’clock in the morning I managed to wake the bloke next to me and couldn’t feel my leg. It just wasn’t working. So I had to rethink my hunting experience. I went down a hill and we had to go across a river on a wire rope. It had a cart on it but somebody had taken the pulley off so I had to go across the wire rope hand-over-hand. It was so hot! I must have been also carrying a temperature you see, and when I went across I thought ‘oh that water looks lovely’ and I dropped in. But then I had to crawl out carrying this heavy leg. I had to go across a bit of land to the car and it took me from 5 o‘clock in the morning to 2 o’clock in the afternoon to crawl out of there with the rifle. That was in 1958. That night I had to crawl into my top bunk. We had eight bunks for us kids and that day my mother, who was a caterer, had people to stay which meant I was on the top bunk. I got into bed and the doctor was called but he couldn’t come because someone was having a baby, which was nice. Believe it or not the next morning I had to go to the toilet so I hopped down thinking I had a leg which I didn’t - it was gone! The doctor came at about 10 o’clock and then I went straight into hospital. It had got in between my shoulder blades down, right down. It had attacked me and one side was stronger than the other. I had a bit of trouble getting rid of water but I had to do it and that was a relief!

 In 1914 the vaccine against polio hadn’t been created. Today, polio has been eradicated in New Zealand due to immunisation. The effort to immunise all against disease continues.

 I was only there for two days before they flew me to Auckland. I was put in a special ward. They had a lot of people with polio there in Auckland and there was a girl there from Thornton, near Whakatane. She was Betty Northhcote and I had to feel so lucky as she was in an iron lung and at times I would feed her. I fed her because often the nurses were so busy. I was very fortunate in a way. I was 22. I loved dancing, I was an athlete, I was a rugby player, I was a bit of everything, which was proved later in life in my paralympics. I was really fit. I used to run up Mt Edgecumbe every Sunday. At hospital I spent all this time in a room, using a toilet with a pan and one day the doctor came in and told me they reckoned I’d be there for two years. After I’d only been there about five months the doctor came in and he saw me sitting up on the side of the bed and he didn’t believe it. He just did not believe it! That was the only way I felt comfortable, sitting on the end of the bed and the doctor said, “you’re not supposed to be off your back”. From there they got me dressed in callipers and I was home in six months. In time to be the best man for my brother’s wedding. I had strength in my upper body which helped when I went on callipers but they broke one day and went through my leg and that hurt quite a bit. I got married on callipers. I had a wheelchair, the oldest wheelchair you could imagine. It had one wheel on the back, two wheels on the side and I used to get around on that for a little while. I would jump out of bed in the morning and crawl to the toilet. It was in Auckland Hospital I learnt how to crawl and how to balance using my arms. Crawl not drag, but crawl and I’ve done that ever since, until I hurt my back.

 After leaving the hospital I went back to my mum. I wasn’t married at that stage I was still looking! Once I had my car, which was given to me by the Crippled Children’s Society, I was away. I still went hunting, eeling, trout fishing and I crawled on my hands and knees to do all that. I got a job back at the mill, inside in the office. I also helped run a youth club, I taught St John’s in Kawerau and I worked to raise money for cancer… I’ve always done things for the community. I always thought and believed in religion because I was taught religion at school and it was in the curriculum and I said to myself, ‘why did that joker up there pick on me, if he’s around?’ Then later on I thought ‘look if you’re going to worry about a little thing like that why don’t you get off your backside and do something about it!’ That’s why I was able to make myself crawl and do what I used to do. Well just about except climb Mt Edgecumbe of course. You’re limited to what you can do but there’s no such word as can’t. If I wanted to get to the top of Mt Edgecumbe I’d surely get there I would! I’m truly blessed by the people that are around me and that have backed me. I took up wheelchair sports in 1964 and have participated in nine Paralympic and Commonwealth Games, winning a total of four gold, eight silver and seven bronze medals between 1966 and 1980. In 1974 I was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II, at Wellington’s Government House, for services to paraplegic sport. I married Madeleine in 1963 and we have three children and I’d like to acknowledge the help, love and support from my family over the years.

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Jim Savage - Polio Sufferer 1958 and MBE Recipient and Paralympian

First Names:Jim
Last Name:Savage
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Jim Savage - Polio Sufferer 1958 and MBE Recipient and Paralympian by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License