Giving back


Denny Wilford who is a Rotarian, was affected by polio when he was only 9 months old. He became a member of Rotary after learning about the organization’s goal of eradicating polio from the world. In Ethiopia, Danny has been leading an effort to build a therapy facility at Cheshire Homes. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle spoke to him about the project and his experience surviving the disease.

Capital: Tell us about your background and what you do.
Denny Wilford:
I had polio as a child; when I was 9 months old. I went through the same things that the children at Cheshire have to go through; difficult physical conditions, difficult social experiences and I have overcome them through the help of many people.
So when I discovered Rotary had a program to eradicate polio, I wanted to get involved. It is basically a vaccination program. Once I got involved in that, I learned there is a need for rehabilitation as part of polio eradication.
That is what Cheshire does, rehabilitation. I have two focuses concerning polio; the vaccination and, in partnership with Cheshire, the physical rehabilitation.
Capital: Tell us about the project at Cheshire home
The Project is a facility that provides physical therapy/physical exercise in water. The reason it is in water is because it takes the stress of the muscles and joints, so people will be able to do strenuous exercise without damaging their muscles and joints so they can build up their strength, that is the purpose of hydro therapy.
The facility will have equipment in it similar to a gymnasium where you have resistance weights so that people who can’t stand can actually be upright like they are standing on the ground and exercise.
Capital: In order for people to fully understand, explain to us how devastating it is to be affected by polio.
As a young person, you want to play with your friends, and a lot of things I saw my friends do, I couldn’t do. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t play sports, I looked funny, I walked funny and kids sometimes will make fun of you, so I had to deal with a lot of that.
Once I had the surgeries and grew up to be a teenager, I practiced a lot of sports and swam a lot. Swimming was my main focus as far as exercise, because I could do it by myself anytime I wanted to. A lot of sports involve a team, I don’t know if you have ever been standing there waiting for somebody to select you for a team and you get chosen last all the time; that is how it has affected me.
Now I have overcome that but there is still a little bit of stigma because I walk with a limp sometimes, when I am tired especially and people still look at me like what’s wrong with you, but I have learned to deal with that.
Capital: How long does the rehabilitation period take?
At Cheshire it is usually six months, the children are the poorest of the poor, when they are brought in, they usually have other issues like malnutrition and other health issues. So the first part of it is getting them healthy and then they are given surgery by Cure International Hospital here.
Cure does the surgery and the physical rehabilitation is done at Cheshire. So there is a Memorandum of Understanding, a very wonderful collaboration between Cure and Cheshire and that whole process takes about 6 months.
Once the children are back in Cheshire, they are in a recovery room or they are basically in bed, except when they need to use the bathroom, until they are not in pain anymore. And then there is a session of maybe a couple of weeks where they are stretching and doing massages, very gentle rehabilitation. Their cast begins to be adjusted and then it becomes adjusted some bit by bit, to make the legs straighter. For the remaining time, it is kids being kids, playing, running around chasing each other.
Capital: The therapy you are talking about, does it need to be on kids or is it for adults as well?
There are not as many children now with disabilities, so now they are taking on adults who are injured in an accident or other things that have damaged their bodies.
Capital: How many children with polio are there at Cheshire?
The number varies; right now it is probably 40 and there are probably other 40 or 50 other adults with different issues needing rehabilitation.
Capital: How much did it cost to build the rehabilitation facility?
It is going to end up at around USD 100,000 and the funding comes from various things but most of it came from Rotary International, my Rotary club as well as other clubs. Local Rotarians also contributed and there were also private contributions from friends and families.
Capital: The facility is named after Past District Governor Nahusenaye Araya. Tell us about that.
Nahu was the Chairperson for Cheshire; he was heavily involved in polio through Rotary, a wonderful man, everybody loved him and he just passed away. So it just seems fitting to me that this exceptional man, extraordinary man should have some more recognition after he has passed away from this earth.
I also saw that it needed to have a local Ethiopian connection and identity, I’m very proud of my part in it but I wanted the Ethiopian people to see it and realize that it is theirs.