In Memory of Joanne Sage
b. March 5, 1938 - d. March
Our Tribute to a Fellow Polio Survivor and Good Friend
Sage was the coordinator of the Lorain County Post-Polio Syndrome Support Group for Elyria and western Cleveland suburbs for
the past 8 years and was a participant in our group for many years before that. She also served as the contact person
for the Ohio Polio Network and welcomed potential new members into both organizations.
Jo had a talent for making people laugh and was a model of spunk, intelligence and good humor.
She was an avid reader, often trading and talking about books at our support group meetings, including memoirs of other polio
survivors. Her love of life and of people, especially her family, was readily apparent. She had a heart of gold,
reaching out to help others in many ways. When one member of the support group needed transportation in her scooter-accessible
van, she drove him where he needed to go. This often included other unanticipated errands, which she joked about afterward.
“Laugh and the world laughs with you,” seemed to be her motto. As our post-polio support group dwindled
in size, she continued to coordinate lunch or dinner meetings and to communicate regularly with previous and current participants.
We will miss her greatly!
Jo contracted polio in Cleveland during July
of 1951 at age 13 which resulted in her being hospitalized in City Hospital and then Rainbow Babies and Children’s rehabilitation
facility for a lengthy period of time. Her family was also affected by her illness when a large orange “Quarantined”
sign was posted on their house by the health department. Due to the fear of polio being contagious, Jo’s brother
and sister were quarantined at home during the initial stage of her illness. Neighborhood children were not allowed
to play with them for several months and often the fear persisted even after the quarantine ended.
The polio virus damaged Jo’s central nervous system resulting in complete paralysis from the
neck down as well as severe breathing difficulties requiring her to stay in an iron lung. Gradually she regained control
of her upper body, but her lower body remained paralyzed for a long time. After an initial period of bed rest, Jo received
extensive therapeutic but uncomfortable treatments including daily hot packs, regular whirlpool sessions and ongoing physical
therapy. As with other polio patients, Jo learned to endure these treatments without complaint. A bright spot
in her therapy was attending Camp Cheerful in Strongsville, OH during summer vacations. She didn’t want
to attend at first, but her mother made her go and she ended up loving it! She enjoyed memorable outdoor experiences
with other children and teens who were recovering from polio in a wooded, country setting that had rustic log cabins and a
large heated swimming pool. She also made many new friends and was grateful for the unique opportunities the camp provided.
After years of therapy as well as undergoing
multiple surgeries on her legs, including muscle transplants, her hard work eventually paid off when she began walking again
without leg braces. She was able to live a normal life and pursue a college education and a lively social life.
She met and married Russ Sage who she said was the only young man she dated who didn’t get scared off when learning
she had had polio. She taught elementary school briefly until she and Russ started a family. Her doctor told her
not to have kids, but she did it anyway and was a terrific mother to her four sons. Her other joy was the office job
she had at the Lakewood YWCA. It brought great satisfaction and many new people into her life until her husband Russ
was transferred out of state for several years.
mid-life, Jo began to experience the symptoms of post-polio syndrome including muscle weakness and fatigue. These problems
began to affect her everyday activities, so she began using specially-designed crutches and a walker. She learned to
adapt to the challenges of life with a disability, and she did it with humor and determination. After she and Russ returned
to the Cleveland area and bought a ranch house in North Ridgeville, her strength began to deteriorate further. She found
it necessary to use either a wheelchair or a mobility scooter and an adapted minivan in order to keep her independence.
She valued her self-help strategies and despite offers of assistance from family members, she usually avoided asking for help.
Her twice-weekly trips to the aquatics facility nearby helped her keep up her strength and also provided an opportunity to
make new friends at the pool. Everyone enjoyed her positive attitude, her sense of fun and her motivation to succeed.
Jo’s 80th birthday was followed quickly by her death
on March 24, 2018, a very unexpected and sorrowful event for her large Italian family as well as for her good friends.
A memorial service was held at Sunset Memorial Park in North Olmsted, Ohio on April 28, 2018 to honor her life. It is
our sincere wish that her soul will rest in eternal peace.
on behalf of the PPS Support Group
of Lorain and Western Cuyahoga County