Blythewood, SC (WLTX) - There was a less than a one in 2.4 million chance that something could go wrong; however, a common childhood vaccination left a Midlands boy partially paralyzed. Now as an adult, this man has turned a tragedy into a triumph.
Several days a week you can find Jamie Fowler working out at Anytime Fitness in Blythewood. He can bench up to 345 pounds, stacks out the shoulder press machine, and can curl 80 pound dumbbells per arm. Needless to say, this bodybuilder's strength is impressive.
But it's the strength that you can't physically see in Jamie that's more remarkable.
"I was born healthy, normal, fine," said Jamie. "I was getting ready for my vaccinations for school; my parents had taken me to the health department."
It's there where Jamie went from being a "normal" boy to becoming a rare statistic. When Jamie was 2-years-old he contracted paralytic polio from the oral polio vaccine.
Once the poliovirus passed through is body, Jamie was left with a paralyzed right leg, unable to grow with the rest of his body.
"I grew up with a walker learning how to walk. And then the older I got I had to wear the brace on my leg and then I had to wear the built up shoe."
The oral vaccine that gave Jamie Paralytic Polio is no longer distributed in the United States, but paralysis was a known side effect.
Dr. Hance Oliver with Providence Family Medicine Lexington explains.
"It was always known that there was a chance of contracting paralytic polio from the oral poliovirus yet we still used it," said Oliver. "One of the reasons we used it because the benefits outweighed the small risk factor."
So small, in fact, that only 1 out of every 2.4 million people developed this form of polio. Of course, that number isn't small to Jamie.
"When I was about 13-years-old my back and my hip had deteriorated so bad that I had been put in a wheelchair," Jamie remembers. "That was probably my lowest point. I remember in school, my mom had to take me to school and the van door opening and the wheelchair gate out and here I was, a kid in school, at the right age where you want to like girls and try to be impressive and this and that, and here I was... the kid in the class or the kid in school rolling around in a wheelchair."
Jamie spent two and a half years in a Shriners Hospital where he had a bone breaking surgery, filling bone that he lacked with stainless steel and learning how to walk again.
As a child, he was made fun of, something Jamie still remembers today. "You have people, who don't have the proper upbringing, or they don't have God in their heart and there are just downright mean people out there."
However, a bit of perspective helped him grow stronger physically and mentally.
"I just thought I had it bad, but when you're in that hospital you'll see some things that will change your life forever."
Jamie's life did change.
Although he walks with a predominate limp and qualifies for a disabled parking pass, Jamie does not accept the term 'handicapped' and refuses any special treatment.
"I do not think of myself as handicapped I do not look at myself as handicapped!"
Even with Jamie's fighting spirit and positive attitude, he did still suffer from side effects from his condition. Something he thought that weight training and cardiovascular exercise could help. So, he started working out with his friend and body builder, Gabe Miles.
"He started coming in the evenings," said Miles, "and I didn't know how it was going to be... what he was going to be able to do, what he wasn't going to be able to do. But he came and he never missed a beat!"
Miles was so impressed that he convinced Jamie to compete in the South Carolina NPC where he finished in the top ten, then the North Carolina NPC where he came in 2nd.
"First time I walked on stage with all those bright lights it was such an adrenaline rush!" Jamie remembers. "So from there on I've been hooked ever since."
When he was younger Jamie's motivation was often based on fitting in; however now, his motivation is based on his family and motivating others.
"I have a wife and a beautiful little girl of my own, I look at the things that I do and I want my daughter to be proud of her father."
"I have so many people that will come over and they'll just want to talk to you and say, 'hey can I get a picture with you?' and say 'thank you' and they'll tell me about a situation with their children. Maybe that's what my purpose is... to motivate people. If I can do it, you can do it. That's for sure!"
Call Jamie Fowler a "meat head" if you want to, just make sure the words "motivated" and "inspiring" closely follow.
"To this day doctors tell me I should be walking with a cane but ehh, it's alright. I'll just walk with a limp, no problem."
"It's been a struggle but I feel like it's built character and made me who I am today."
The oral polio vaccine that infected Jamie Fowler has not been used in the United States since 2000 when a safer form was approved.
Today polio has been eliminated from the US and the entire Western Hemisphere although it is still a threat in some countries.