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Infantile Paralysis
Syble Farr

Syble Farr

Syble Farr had just begun to walk at the age of eleven months. Her father would allow the baby to play with his closed pocketknife when her aunt came over to help out with the children. While playing with the knife, Syble’s aunt noticed that she dropped it and could not hold onto it while playing. There was an epidemic of infantile paralysis, now known as polio, during this time. The aunt suggested that Syble see a doctor to determine if she had infantile paralysis, which was a much-dreaded disease in 1941.

Syble was brought from Montgomery to Birmingham for treatment at Children’s Hospital. At the time, Syble was the youngest of four children. Her mother was pregnant with a fifth child, making it impossible for her to stay at the hospital with Syble. Therefore, the child was left with the nurses at the hospital to care for her until she was able to be released back home. The family had no transportation and the father hitchhiked for visits to the hospital, or rode the Greyhound bus (about 100 miles).

Syble was indeed diagnosed with infantile paralysis, which affected her left arm and right leg. Syble stayed at Children’s Hospital for a nine-month stay. A second hospitalization at age 3 required a yearlong stay with physical therapy on a daily basis while there. Syble eventually learned to walk again with the use of a long leg brace and crutches. Her left arm recovered from the paralysis prior to entering first grade, but her right leg was shorter and smaller than the left.

Over the years, Syble’s treatment included several surgeries and monthly check-ups at Crippled Children’s Clinic in Montgomery. These follow-up visits were necessary until she reached age 18. Even though Syble’s right leg is still three-and-a-half inches shorter than the left, seldom has that inequity affected her activities. Her last surgery was when she was almost 16 years old. By this time, doctors at Crippled Children’s Service performed her last surgery, which resulted in removing the right kneecap and fusing the knee. Syble adapted well to having a stiff leg. “I was able to wear black and white saddle oxford shoes with a build-up attached to my brace. Saddle oxfords were so popular in the mid-1950s,” she says. “I could also out-jump anyone else on a jump rope.”

Because of the care Syble received at Children’s Hospital during her infancy and preschool years, she has been able to live a very normal life. Thank you, Children’s Hospital!
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