Emanuel Poznanski dealt with polio for most of his childhood. He overcame it, but he now suffers from PPS, a disease that can take over his life.
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Emanuel Poznanski had 21 surgeries in the first 16 years of his life.
He received muscle transplants and joint fusions, each procedure followed by months of recovery.
During one of his last surgeries, a doctor broke his left leg -- which was an inch and a half longer than his right -- in an effort to decrease the difference.
Poznanski, 62, was born in Israel, where he contracted paralytic polio when he was 4 months old. He said his mother rushed him on a plane to the U.S. to save his life. She took him to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and then to Children's Hospital Boston.
In his earliest memories, hospitals were his home. There, he lived and received most of his early education.
"I never realized I was handicapped," Poznanski said.
He's thankful for that.
About 25 percent of his muscle had been destroyed by the disease. By the time he was a teenager, he had a slight limp, but said he could walk for miles. The confinement he felt from the disease and hospitals had ended. He was ready to start living.
In 1964, when Poznanski was 14, his family moved to York County, where he attended York Suburban High School. Poznanski, who now lives in Las Vegas, visits friends in York County for two months every summer. He stays at the Cross Keys Motor Inn in New Oxford.
"It was the most formative time in my life," Poznanski said of living here. "It was the time I was the happiest."
He thought he had overcome the debilitating disease and one-time epidemic. Decades later, he would again feel the effects.
Poznanski has post-polio syndrome, a condition that affects 25 percent to 45 percent of polio survivors years after initial onset of the disease, according to Post-Polio Health International. From 1937 to 1950, 226,306 cases of paralytic and nonparalytic polio were reported.
Symptoms of PPS -- a chronic, degenerative disease -- include pain, fatigue, and breathing and swallowing problems, and can worsen over time.
Some PPS patients say they have difficulty getting the right care because their symptoms are similar to aging -- and because modern doctors don't know a lot about the disease that is no longer prevalent thanks to a 1955 vaccine.
"We're dying off," Poznanski said. "Pretty soon, there won't be any of us left."
More than a year ago, Deborah Stambaugh started a post-polio support group that meets monthly in Hanover. She said about 20 people participate to share their post-polio-related problems and resources.
Stambaugh met Poznanski this summer and said he has a wealth of knowledge.
"He's really gifted in all this," she said.
Poznanski has watched his body decline for the last 14 years, as he searches for answers beyond his reach.
In 1998, he lived in Brazil, where he ran English schools. He felt fatigued and started falling every few months. By 2003, he felt too tired to work and moved back to the U.S. with his wife. Though he knew about PPS, he didn't seek a diagnosis.
"I was in a funk," Poznanski said. "I was aloof and probably didn't want to admit it."
In 2006, he stopped walking and needed a scooter to get around. A year later, he started researching the condition, spending three to four hours a day online trying to learn more.
He was diagnosed with sleep apnea and started gaining weight because his mobility was limited. At his peak, his 5-foot-7-inch-tall frame weighed 220 pounds. He has Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. To maintain his weight of 190 pounds, he said, he can eat only 1,200 calories a day because his body doesn't easily burn energy.
His neck, joints and left side ache, and his breathing is getting worse. He uses his right arm almost exclusively and has learned to swing it into certain positions so he can use it because he has no muscle in his shoulders.
Poznanski rested his left hand on his protruding stomach as he gestured with his right at a diner in New Oxford. He leaned his forearm on the table to reach his sandwich before leaning in to take a bite.
To perform everyday tasks, it takes him two to four times longer than it used to -- 15 minutes to move his body out of bed, two and a half hours to shower and 45 minutes to get dressed.
"It bores me," he said.
He brings literature about PPS to his doctors and travels to clinics and wellness camps throughout the country.
"I have to watch out for what's ahead of the curve," he said.
Dr. Andrew Schutzbank helps Poznanski manage his condition. Schutzbank, assistant medical director of Iora Health in Cambridge, Mass., said he never came across a PPS patient before Poznanski. Poznanski met Schutzbank in Las Vegas, where Schutzbank sometimes works. They communicate mostly by phone and email.
"Everything I know about PPS, I learned from Manny," Schutzbank said.
He said there's not many good resources for the condition, yet the needs of PPS patients can be great.
Schutzbank helps Poznanski take care of his general health and connects him to specialists who might be able to improve his PPS. It's his job to keep Poznanski in the fight.
He said his patient's prognosis is "some variety of poor" and that he's going to get weaker over time.
"It's a race against the clock," Schutzbank said. "Manny's key is his tenacity. He's unwilling to accept that there's no help."
Poznanski can feel his body slowing down. He said he's a 62-year-old with a 90-year-old body, yet his brain is still sharp.
This summer, he ended his trip to York County more than a month early because traveling had become too much.
"It's coming to an end," Poznanski said. "It's becoming physically difficult to keep going."
He said because people who had polio conquered so much, many feel they can overcome anything. But, he said, PPS is not something to go at alone -- patients need to seek adequate care.
"The wall, this time," Poznanski said. "It's insurmountable."
People who had polio can develop post-polio syndrome decades after they first developed paralysis or weakness. Polio patients might develop more weakness, atrophy or paralysis.
Deborah Stambaugh of Spring Grove runs a post-polio support group that meets once a month. She said the group provides an outlet for former polio patients to talk about problems they might experience today as a result of the disease.
The group will meet 2 p.m. Sept. 23 at Hanover Church of the Brethren, 601 Wilson Ave., Hanover. For details, call 717-259-9594.