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Polio
Bryce Romine

Children’s Hospital Remembered: The Lone Ranger, Bottled Milk and Air Conditioning

In June 1955, many Birmingham children were watching the debut of TV’s “The $64,000 Question,” hoping to see Disney’s new movie “Lady and The Tramp” and asking their parents if they could someday visit the newly-opened Disneyland.

But 11-year-old Bryce Romine from Limestone County was preoccupied with other matters. He had battled polio since age 2, enduring heat therapy and other efforts to heal his young legs. It was sometime in those mid-decade summers, 1954 through 1956 Bryce thinks, that he and his mother took the bus to Birmingham for his first leg surgery.

Neither Bryce nor his mother knew that the three-hour bus trip would become a summer routine as Bryce endured what he remembers as five or six surgeries, one each summer through the early 1960’s. Bryce’s mother, a widow with five children, couldn’t remain in Birmingham with her son. She had to return to working in the fields and taking care of his siblings.

So, for an average two weeks each summer, Bryce remained at Children’s by himself. He remembers the casts on at least one leg, sometimes two. He remembers being cared for by nurses in white uniforms with white caps. He remembers his ward, containing eight or ten children. He remembers being frightened to be separated from his mother.

But he also remembers the wonders of life outside his rural home – electricity, air conditioning, television and even milk in a bottle. He remembers his excitement when The Lone Ranger visited the hospital. And he remembers the kindness of those who cared for him.

“I enjoyed it,” says Bryce of the attention he received. “It was all experimental stuff. They did as much as they could for me.”

Despite everyone’s best efforts, polio left its mark. Bryce still uses an electric scooter and crutches, and suffers other physical limitations. That disease was just the first of many health challenges this father of two and grandfather of three has faced.

But Bryce is grateful for everything. He is grateful for his mother seeking the best care for her son, despite tremendous sacrifice. He is grateful for those at Children’s Hospital who tried to help him walk and showed him kindness when he had no family nearby.

Although today the dread of polio is a faded memory, children like Bryce still come to Children’s with their own challenges. They are both frightened and amazed by their surroundings. They are excited by celebrity visits, favorite foods and unfamiliar toys. They know the grown-ups are trying to help them, even when it hurts.

And these children, like all those who came before them, will always remember the kindness of those who cared for them -- even when they, like Bryce Romine, are 64.
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