Whangamata, Aotearoa New Zealand, February 2022

The Hidden Scars of Polio: a new book written by Jan Wills Collins and published in 2021.

Author commentary:

This is my story, my reflections on my life, my journey with polio and its lifetime effect. It is the story of my lifelong struggle to recover and grow from it.

Why did I write this book ?

During the first Covid-19 lockdown I witnessed and was subjected to behavioural changes from people I thought were my friends.

This is an understandable reaction when people are fearful  of the unknown and their stress responses are heightened.

But for me, I was transported back to the polio epidemic of 1952 when my sister and I were hospitalised with poliomyelitis. I was eleven years old and my sister only two.

From the book:

I was afraid for myself and those close to me that this new virus could infiltrate my family as did the polio virus. I recall only too well the sense of isolation and I was afraid New Zealand’s complete lockdown to contain Covid-19 may create  the same behaviour and feelings.

I believe there are many similarities between polio and Covid-19. Polio changed me and the effects weren’t just physical.

With no social media as we know it today, people were not well-informed about this virus in the 1950s, and they were very frightened for themselves and their families.

Covid arrived in the summer without warning and the fear and uncertainty may have felt new to many.

However, to me, and perhaps those who lived through the polio epidemic of the last century, this fear was strangely familiar.

My dad lost his job as his colleagues were terrified they would catch polio and completely ostracised him. People walked on the other side of the street.

These were but just a few ripple effects from this epidemic.

Now, seeing the world go through another pandemic, I am struck by how my memories were reignited.

I was one of the lucky ones who came out of this epidemic with few visible deformities, but the mental scars were far-reaching

I felt compelled to put pen to paper in the hope that my experiences may strike a chord with some people and encourage them to seek help


Although polio is a memory for many, the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic is said to have conjured up feelings similar to those present when this crippling disease terrified a nation and indeed the entire world.

– Carl Kurlander, The deadly polio epidemic and why it matters for Coronavirus


My sister, my brother and myself post-polio

I spent many hours researching polio statistics and, in this time, came to meet and speak with polio survivors, who believe like myself that Covid-19 will have the same collateral damage as did polio.

An example being long-term Covid, as likened to post-polio syndrome.

Vaccination has almost eradicated polio throughout the world, and I look forward to vaccination doing the same for our present-day epidemic.



About the book – Press Release: 

The deadly polio epidemic and why it matters for Coronavirus.

An 80-year-old’s memoir,  a reminder of how we stopped the most feared disease of the 20th century.

One thing we can learn from history is that it does tend to repeat itself.  A Lockdown inspired 80-year-old polio survivor to write and publish her memoirs entitled “The  Hidden  Scars of Polio”.

What did you do in lockdown? While some of us were baking our hearts out, deep in homeschooling the children, or overdue spring cleaning, an 80-year-old polio survivor, retired nurse and health and safety advisor for the NZ Fire Service,  published her memoirs entitled “The Hidden Scars Of Polio”.  When asked why she wrote the book, the author Jan Wills-Collins commented, “Covid has sparked so many memories and similarities to the impact Polio had on me and so many others. I felt this might have the potential to help others who are suffering from COVID today”.

The fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic may feel new to many of us. But it is strangely familiar to those who lived through the polio epidemic of the last century.

Played out through the first half of the 20th century, the polio virus peaked at 350,000 cases in more than 33 endemic countries. Polio mainly affected children and led in many cases to irreversible paralysis; 5%  to 10% die when their breathing muscles became immobilized. In the initial outbreak of 1916 and for the next four decades, swimming pools and movie theatres closed during polio season for fear of this invisible enemy. Parents stopped sending their children to playgrounds or birthday parties for fear they would “catch polio”. Hope came in the race to develop a vaccine, which led to the novel and initially controversial polio vaccine, developed in 1955 by US scientist Jonas Salk, 39, and his team at the University of Pittsburgh. Nations pulled together and implemented widespread vaccinations of their people, with Polio being ultimately conquered by the vaccine. Salk became one of the most celebrated scientists in the world. “We lived for decades in fear of the disease with no prevention and no cure; I remember the day it was announced that the vaccine was a success, people were cheering and church bells ringing throughout the world,” recalls Wills-Collins.

Jan Wills-Collins hopes that the memoirs can help those still suffering from the long-lasting effects of the diseases and inspire others with hope in a period of COVID. “As polio sufferers and survivors, we bore the scars of this horrific disease both physically and emotionally, with many of us still dealing with the effects today,” Wills-Collins says.


Born in Marton, On New Zealand’s North Island,  on 17 May 1941, Jan was the first-born child of Noeline and Ron Butt. Her parents were talented bakers and owned a home cookery and tea rooms. With no siblings for five years,  Jan’s early years were blessed with the interaction she had with the townspeople and visitors who frequented her parents’ shop. Her brother was born 28 February 1946 and her sister 12 August 1950.

Jan and her sister contracted polio in the New Zealand epidemic in August of 1952. She was eleven years old and her sister only two. Polio changed their lives, and the effects weren’t just physical.  A ripple effect from the virus spread through her family and those close to them

Now, seeing the world go through another pandemic -Covid-19, Jan’s memories of the polio of the polio epidemic have been reignited . Jan believes there are many similarities between polio and Covid -19. This prompted Jan to put pen to paper and her book The Hidden Scars of Polio evolved.

She hopes her story will strike a chord with some readers and encourage them to seek help.

Jan’s retirement is spent in Whangamata a beautiful corner of  the Coromandel Peninsula. She is a retired nurse, Health and Safety Manager/ Consultant  and has spent her entire life caring for others. In retirement she continues her calling as a carer as the Co-Ordinator of the Whangamata Cancer Support Group.

A copy of  Jan’s book may be purchased direct from Jan  by contacting her on email: Jan.wills@xtra.co.nz

Book available at: Wheelers book distributers or Whangamata Books, Port Road, Whangamata.