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National Museum of Australia

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4

Black half leg caliper

Object information

Physical description

A half leg caliper made of leather and metal with a shoe attached. It has steel braces and springs with leather straps attached between the leather strap at the top and the shoe at the bottom. The leather band has a strap and buckle, and padded inner section. The metal braces are permanently attached to heel of of a black leather dress shoe (left foot) with black cotton laces. It is re-soled but well worn.

Statement of significance

The Roger Smith collection consists of two full leg callipers with shoes attached, three below the knee callipers, one with shoe attached and a pair of crutches.
Roger Smith wore the callipers after he contracted poliomyelitis (polio) as a teenager in 1950. He was paralysed from the waist down and spent ten months in Canberra Community Hospital. He recovered to a certain extent but one foot and one leg remained affected and he required the callipers to walk. His condition deteriorated in the late 1990s due to post-polio syndrome, and he now uses a wheelchair.

Polio is a frightening and sometimes fatal disease. It is a gastro-intestinal virus which has an affinity for nervous tissue and can cause paralysis if it reaches the central nervous system. Many polio patients died because their chest muscles were paralysed. Artificial respirators or 'iron lungs' which breathed for them, kept patients alive and many recovered to breathe on their own. Patients were isolated and limbs were immobilised. After a period of immobilisation there were exercises and physiotherapy sessions to treat wasted muscles. Often muscles never recovered completely and patients required callipers for support to walk.

There were nearly 7,000 cases of polio in Australia in the 1930s. From 1944 to1954, there were nearly 17,000 cases with more than 1000 deaths. Since the introduction of polio vaccines the disease has been eradicated from many parts of the world including Australia. However, polio is still a threat in some countries and it is important to maintain a high rate of immunisation to ensure that polio does not re-establish itself.

Object information

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