A TAUNTON woman has told how her life was turned upside down by a virus that ravaged lives in the 1950s.

Rita Sandford caught the polio virus before a vaccine was found as a five-year-old in 1955.

There was no lockdown and people had to carry on their everyday lives not knowing who would be the next person to catch the deadly disease.

Rita was completely paralysed and was admitted to the Cheddon Road Isolation Hospital, where she was put into an iron lung, along with her mother, who sadly died, her brother, who was slightly affected, and father, who remained healthy.

Their home was fumigated and the council marked a large white cross on the door and barricaded the road.

Rita said: "Everyone was frightened.

"I had to spend a long time in hospital while the physiotherapist worked on my arms and legs to see if I could improve.

"Polio attacks the central nervous system killing the nerves which my brain would tell my arms and legs to move.

"Without these nerves working, my body would not respond.

"Not all the nerves were affected and I slowly gained the use of my arms, but not my legs."

Rita was transferred to hospital in Bath, where she was put in solitary confinement if she cried and was locked in the gym one night for not eating her supper.

She said: "It was a hard lesson for a five year old to learn, having just lost my mother, while my father, who did not drive, lived so far away.

"Most disabled people in those times were locked away out of sight. The aim was to get me up and walking so that I would be accepted back into society.

"I gradually walked using heavy full-length leg irons and a spinal support which I struggled to do. I did mainly use a wheelchair for distance."

Rita was allowed home after 15 months and spent many months back in hospital every year.

From the age of seven, she received an hour's home tuition every day.

She said: "Despite this, I was determined to live an ordinary life.

"I worked for 30 years, living independently, driving a van from my wheelchair, and went on many exciting holidays with friends."

Rita has written her life story entitled To Paddle My Feet, which is available from Brendon Books, Rumwell Farm Shop, Amazon and Amazon Kindle, with all profits going to charity.