Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Celebrating 13 Years of Healing...Part II - Transformation

My life came to a screeching halt after receiving the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome in December of 2006. I took a leap of faith on May 25th 2007 leaving behind my award winning career as a VA social worker to heal my life. After being discharged from Spaulding Rehab Outpatient Clinic, I worked my home exercise program and continued to write poetry. I sought out a publisher for "New World Greetings: Inspirational Poetry and Musings for a New World." I started feeling better filled with hope yet terrified for letting go of a steady paycheck and my 25 year career as a social worker.

From Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility:
Shortly after being discharged from outpatient physical therapy I met Janine Hightower through Herb Simmons. He knew Janine through his participation in the Cardiac Rehab program at Boston Medical Center. I was launching my business New World Greeting Cards, original poetry for every occasion. She was a member of BNI, a professional networking group. As we sat in my living room, she talked about BNI and the benefits of being a member of this networking group. As she talked, I wasn’t focused on growing my business. My mind zeroed in on her sharing with us how she used BNI to promote her in home personal training business.

“You know I’m curious,” I said to Janine. “Do you think you could help me? I was just discharged from Spaulding Rehab.”

I went on to tell her about my journey.

“I don’t know,” she said “but I’d certainly be happy to set up an assessment with you.”

I couldn’t even pass the initial fitness assessment.

“You’re way too young to not be able to get off of the toilet seat without holding on to the sink or to not be able to get off of the couch,” she said to me.

It was a statement of fact without judgment. She spoke the truth about my deconditioned physical state. I signed on to work with her once a week in personal training. I had no idea what or why I was doing this. I did know that if I was going to be in pain, I’d prefer to feel the pain of recovery instead of the pain of decline. Janine held enough faith for both of us that I could come out of my leg brace and have a good quality of life despite the diagnosis and prognosis I received.

Janine’s mantra for our work together was a quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!”

I could not pass the initial fitness evaluation she gave me. After our first workout session together, I could barely move the next day. I discovered muscles I did not even know existed in my body. I made a promise to myself that if I were going to experience pain, I would prefer to feel pain on the side of getting healthy than the pain of decline.

This is a photo of me from Christmas 2007:

Janine held enough faith for both of us that I would and could get stronger. Once a week she came to my house armed with weights and exercises, words of kindness and encouragement yet always pushing me to help bring me out of my once deconditioned state.

From "The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953":
At my six-month evaluation in February, I made dramatic improvements in every area of the assessment. I had come out of my leg brace. I knew I was on a healing path.

“Let’s write down your goals for the next six months,” Janine said feeling proud and satisfied with my progress.

“Well I want to feel free in my body. I want to dance. I want to be able to walk outside and feel unencumbered when I take a walk.”

Janine feverishly wrote down my goals, and we worked out a plan. She gathered up her belongings and had her hand on the door knob.

“Wait. I have one more goal.”

Janine stopped and turned around.

“I want to run the Boston Marathon for Spaulding Rehab Hospital. I know they have a Race for Rehab team and I want to do it next year.”

Did you ever have one of those moments when words fell out of your mouth after rising up from the depths of your soul without going through any thought process?

Janine was non-plussed. I don’t know what kept her from turning tail and getting as far away from me as she could. She came back into my house, set down her things and without missing a beat said, “Well the first thing you are going to need is a pair of running shoes.”

She laid out a cursory training plan and said that we would begin indoors to build up my cardio endurance. As soon as the weather got a little warmer, we’d go outdoors and I would learn how to run.

What had I just done?

I committed myself to a herculean goal. I had never run a day in my life yet I was called to become a runner and run a marathon - and not just any marathon mind you but THE Boston Marathon.

Poetry continued to flow out of me. My story was shared in The Brookline Tab and reader's comments fueled my journey:

Since she was a little girl, Mary McManus had rarely moved faster than a walk.

But last month, the former polio patient bought her first pair of running shoes. And now she’s training for a marathon.

Paralyzed by polio at the age of 5, the Brookline mother of two now spends every day fighting back against the crippling effects of the disease that still threatens to rob her of her strength and mobility 50 years later. She said she won’t stop until she runs her first marathon.

“I just know with every fiber in my body that we will,” she said. “It’s all happening.”

McManus faces an uphill battle. Though polio itself has been virtually eradicated from the developed world, McManus is one of more than 440,000 Americans who could see a resurgence of symptoms decades later, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Scientists believe this resurgence, called post-polio syndrome, is a result of natural aging and stress on the motor neurons that survive an initial polio attack.

Polio survivors learn to depend on these motor neurons as they recover, and can live relatively normal lives before they give out later in life, according to Mary Cole, a senior occupational therapist at the International Center for Polio in Framingham.

“There’s usually a long period of stability,” said Cole. “If not, there’s something else going on.”

Cole teaches post-polio patients how to save their energy, and recommends that many start using the braces and canes they once used as kids. “It’s about improving quality of life,” she said.

“A lot of people think exercise is what can get you through this, and that’s not the case,” Cole said. “Most of these patients have been overusing these muscles, and we need to find a balance.”

But McManus said she refuses to slow down. She wants to prove that other post-polio patients don’t have to, either.

“I’m here to let them know that that might be true for some people, but it doesn’t have to that way,” she said.

I was running to not only reclaim my life; to move out of a mindset of disability and emotional and physical paralysis. I was running to inspire others.

Readers commented on the on line version of the article.

Hello Mary, i stumbled onto your story.
I had polio when i was 14 months old; 27 years after, i still struggle with the physical and 'mostly' the emotional trials that accompany polio.
I'm a doctor so daily i encounter people with a variety of challenging conditions and i constantly draw strength from how different people embrace their unique situations.
I am particularly inspired by your unrelenting spirit, 50 years on!
I just got back from taking a long walk.
I was thinking about my life in general and saying to myself, are you just going to give in to polio without a fight?
I decided that i'll start running in the evenings to strengthen my calfs and increase my muscle bulk. During my walk, i also dealt with some emotional issues... but i digress.
I got home and got on the internet to see if there were any researched exercise routines beneficial to polio survivors, i wanted to be sure running was safe.
I got a lot of info, the unanimous advice was, don't over exert yourself, complete with the medical explanations why overexertion could be harmful.
I know running may be a stretch for me, i don't know how beneficial it will be, but i know that miracles still do happen.
Polio will not hinder me anymore. I am definitely gonna give it a shot.
I'll come back here to let you know my improvement.
I am very inspired by your determination and i thank you for sharing your story.
God bless you.

Hi Mary. I was listening to the radio the other night and I heard your interview. I don't know if you remember me but you took care of my husband George Murray while at the VA hospital as well as saving my life on a daily basis back then. You were truly my angel. I am so happy to have an opportunity to thank you for all you did for me back then and I have often wondered about how you were and then I heard you quite by accident as I still get up really early but the radio was on and I immediately recognized your voice. Do I think you will run this marathon, absolutely. You will do it. I am sorry you have gone through these health problems but you sound wonderful. I am going to get your book and I know I will love it. God bless you and I know he does.
Maureen Murray

Maureen referenced my interview on The Jordan Rich Show on Boston’s WBZ radio.

If you'd met Mary last year and then again today, you will be pleasantly surprised by the changes in her. She positively radiates with energy and good cheer. If exercise is how she's made the changes then I definitely want to start moving more too. It would be nice to have a follow-up after she has run her marathon.
Beth Blutt

I think it is awesome that she has been able to rebuild her strength a second time. I am encouraged now to continue exercising myself and continue to accomplish as much as I can in my golden years instead of settling for couch potato status.
Linda DuPre

To be continued....

To your health and wellness
From my heart to yours

Be sure to visit my website at www.marymcmanus.com

Hear my interview with Kendra Petrone on Magic 106.7's Exceptional Women Show by following this link

My books are available on Amazon and "Feel the Heal" and "The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953" are available in Natick Center Cultural District at Paula Romero Dunbar's Celebration Boutique Paper Fiesta coincidentally located on Mile 10 of the Boston Marathon Route.

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