Local survives bout with polio

Published 7:41 pm Thursday, September 25, 2008

Imagine being 16, young and energetic, having to move to a new town to live with your sister after your father passed away. You come to town in the spring, suit up for spring football with the local high school, and ready to show your athletic prowess on the football field and, later, on the basketball court.

That was the life of Joseph “Doby” Foshee, who moved to Demopolis from Red Level in the spring of 1959 following the death of his father. He moved in with his sister and her husband, Christine and Al Barton, and was ready to take the school by storm. He worked for the city in the engineering department the summer before the 1959 football season, and when the fall came, that meant football.

“I loved Demopolis,” Foshee said. “It has a great academic school, and I enjoyed playing football, and I was looking forward to playing basketball.”

Email newsletter signup

However, during the third week of that football season, Foshee’s life would change irrevocably when he was diagnosed with polio.

“I was planning on getting my polio shot after it cooled down,” he said. “The Thursday night before the third football game of the year, I became ill, and I went to the doctor the next day. He thought I had something like the flu, and I asked him if I would be okay to play, and he told me, ‘If you feel like it.’ That was all I needed to hear.

“That night, when I would come out of the game, I’d stiffen up, and after the game, I was really just about done for.

“I was very sick the next day,” he said. “They thought that I had spinal meningitis, so they put me in the hospital. They did a spinal tap, and then, they found out what I had.

“The next day, that Sunday, I was short of breath, so they transferred me to Montgomery and put me in an iron lung to assist my breathing. That was around Sept. 10 or 12. By the middle of January, I was able to get out of the iron lung for good.”

But Foshee’s treatment didn’t end there. That June, just 14 years after the death of fellow polio sufferer President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Foshee was sent to Warm Springs, Ga., for rehabilitation in the same waters used to treat FDR.

“Before that, I was not able to sit up, my muscles had atrophied so much,” Foshee said. “I had therapy and warm-water treatments, and I was able to use a wheelchair.”

Foshee’s sister moved to Augusta, Ga., where he lived, finished high school and attended Augusta College, graduating with a degree in business.

He worked for 31 years at a local paper mill, which went through several name changes before it eventually became International Paper. He was forced to retire in 1998 due to declining health.

In 1983, he married his wife, Eleanor, and they built a home in Augusta.

“It’s completely accessible,” he said. “It has four bedrooms and four baths.

“For the last 23 years or so, we have rented the house to the BBC broadcasting company during the Master’s golf tournament and their famous announcer, Peter Alliss. They’ve stayed here every year; we’ve had quite a nice relationship with them.”

Foshee has been active throughout his life in church and with issues regarding disability awareness. When he lived in Demopolis, he was active at Fairhaven Baptist Church, and remembered its pastor at that time, William Casady, very well.

“I was blessed to be able to be active,” Foshee said. “I am thankful every day for that.”

Foshee had fond memories of his time in Demopolis.

“I remember George ‘Pep’ Peppenhorst and Coach Johnson and Janice and Ken Lanier,” he said, stating that there were so many good friends from that time that he could hardly begin to name them all. “Janice and Ken were good friends and neighbors of mine.”

In 2000, the Foshees bought a recreational vehicle and toured the West, spending three months visiting 22 states, national parks and seeing other sights.

“We ate at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco,” he said. “We also went to Crater Lake in Oregon, went to Washington state and saw Mount St. Helens, and even went into Canada. It was the trip of a lifetime.”

Joseph “Doby” Foshee was only in Demopolis for a short time before facing a severe life-changing event. Despite that, he has lived a life full of giving, sharing and remaining active, helping within his church and other areas that he is interested in. If a role model is someone who gives of himself to others, then Foshee is just that, and Demopolis should be proud to count him among its people.