A woman has shared how her childhood was stripped from her after she contracted polio – claiming doctors initially missed the signs.
Kwardi Kay Jay Johnson’s parents first noticed that she was suffering from a high fever when she was just two years old.
The couple took their daughter to the doctor but were allegedly told it was just a normal fever and were advised to give the child over-the-counter medication, a hot bath, and let her rest.
But nothing helped and Kwardi was still in immense pain.
It would be years before she finally received her diagnosis of polio but, by that point, her body was already suffering the after-effects.
These symptoms are still present today – with the now 36-year-old suffering from constant fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and trouble breathing.
She is now sharing her story to warn others about how polio can affect patients when left undiagnosed for a long time, and, as a model and activist, to show that disability doesn’t impact a person’s beauty.
“I was in so much pain, crying,” Kwardi, originally from Liberia, Africa, but living in New York City, US, told NeedToKnow.co.uk.
“It took years to find someone to help us.
“When my parents heard about them [a few doctors who had travelled to Liberia from the US] they immediately decided to take me there [to them], hoping for a miracle.
“And when they saw me they knew exactly what it was – I had post-polio symptoms.
“They immediately started treatments and wasted no time.
“But by that time it was too late – my body had already been damaged, and my condition had gotten worse.”
Polio – also known as poliomyelitis – is an illness caused by a virus that mainly affects nerves in the spinal cord or brain stem.
In its most severe form, the disease can lead to a person becoming paralysed, having trouble breathing and sometimes death.
For Kwardi, the polio has affected her legs the worst and she suffers constant muscle pain.
She said: “I pretty much spent most of my childhood, around seven years, going from one hospital to the next.
“As a young person with a wheelchair, I was bullied a lot and called all sorts of names because of my disability.
“I hated the way I looked, and not being able to do the things other kids were doing.
“Throughout my entire life, I’ve received negative comments, I’ve been called every negative word in the book.”
As an adult, Kwardi refuses to let evil comments get to her and she’s learned to love her body.
She is now a graduate of human service and psychology, as well as a wheelchair model and disability advocate.
However, she still has to use a wheelchair and takes medications every day to manage her symptoms.
She said: “I have learned to focus on the positive and forget the negative.
“My main goals are to change the narrative of how society sees the disabled community.
”I try looking past all the negativity but the truth is it hurts because I’m human with feelings.
“It’s hard to look past this – but I’m doing it.”
Kwardi also uses her Instagram (@4_everkayjay), to share details from her life, spread awareness and tackle the stigma around disability.
She added: “I want people to know that post-polio symptoms are not contagious and it is not an airborne disease.
“I also wish there was more information and awareness about my symptoms than [there] actually is.
“My message to anyone going through something similar to me is to never give up.
“Concentrate on what you can do, your situation doesn’t define who you are.
“You can make a huge difference in someone else’s life.”
In terms of her prognosis, she added: “My post-polio symptoms will get worse over time as I get older, but with medications and treatments it may slow it down.
“I’m definitely going to live with these symptoms for the rest of my life.”