JOHN Tierney will never forget the reaction he received when he first started taking polio survivors to Parliament House in Canberra to press their case for assistance.
"We met the [health] minister and he said 'Polio? Didn't we get rid of that 60 years ago?'" he said.
"That was the level of knowledge in the parliament - zero - that there were 400,000 people in Australia that had been badly affected by the epidemics of the 20th century and that we're still here."
Dr Tierney has sat on both sides - as politician, having served as a federal senator for NSW, and polio survivor. He contracted the disease that attacks the central nervous system when he was born, after a doctor who had attended a polio case "didn't wash his hands properly" before delivering baby John.
He wore an iron caliper on his left leg to 12 and now lives with the late effects of polio, advocating for survivors with the hope of raising awareness and funds.
"All polio survivors are Type A personalities," Dr Tierney said.
"We're all driven, we won't let anything beat us. Polio tried to kill us and nothing else will. We just keep ploughing on."
Dr Tierney has been made a Member of the Order of Australia in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours, for significant services to people with polio and in his roles as Polio Australia's national patron and its president from 2012 to 2017. It follows him receiving Medal of the Order of Australia in 2012, for service to the Parliament of Australia, to education and to the community. "I'm quite honoured," he said from his Newcastle East home.
- RELATED CONTACT:Secrets-of-snakes-spiders-and-poison
Dr Tierney's role has involved establishing the Parliamentary Friends of Polio Survivors group; appointing parliamentary patrons; bringing an event called Walk With Me to Parliament House, speaking to Rotary clubs and organising an international conference. But he said the highlight was securing government funding to train doctors and allied health professionals about the bodies of people with polio. A three year package has recently been renewed for another three years.
"That was incredibly challenging - I spent seven years down there twice a year lobbying and it really annoyed me that we weren't making a lot of headway so I stayed with it until we actually got the funding... I look back on that with great pride. It was successful in the end just by sheer persistence."
He is still pushing for polio survivors - and everyone over 65 - to be included in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
"We are the only disability, the only disease actually, that hits you when you're young... and then comes back to bite you again when you're old. The disease doesn't come back, but the damage it's done creates these late effects of polio."
Dr Tierney is mostly affected on his left side and the bottom half of his body.
While it would be easy to feel bitter towards the doctor who delivered him, "I was born with a really optimistic outlook. If you're dealt a bad hand you look at what good cards you might have."
QUEEN'S BIRTHDAY HONOURS:
- Professor Geoff Isbister honoured for work on snakes, spiders and poison
- Newcastle Freemason recognised for service
- Hunter building tycoon Bill McDonald awarded OAM
- 'Fire in the belly' drives Eliza plus Hunter's other AM winners
- OAM for Margot who says it's an honour
- Trevor put Morpeth on the map
- Hunter historian Ed Tonks recognised with OAM