Despite polio paralysis, Gardens woman master of elaborate beaded work


Lyna Breslow spent a few months in an iron lung when she had polio as a child growing up in New York.

The lingering effects haven’t kept her from making ornately beaded purses and jewelry.

Lyna Breslow knows she shouldn’t be able to do any of the ornate bead work or crocheting that entertains her for hours at a time.

It’s one of the first things she tells me when she answers the door, wearing a bright pink dress and one of the necklaces she made.

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Breslow, 70, contracted polio when she was 4 and ended up in an iron lung for a few months. Iron lungs kept children breathing when the polio virus reached the muscles in the chest. They would lay on a bed inside the machines that pulled air in and out of their lungs.

Breslow learned to be left-handed after she came down with the deadly, paralyzing disease while she was growing up in New York.

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“It was a disease that people were terrified of,” she said, comparing it to the Zika virus today. “I was very fortunate that my legs were not paralyzed. In those years, when you became ill, your entire body was paralyzed. It was a matter of how much came back.”

The lingering effects in Breslow’s right shoulder haven’t stopped her from making elaborate beaded purses and jewelry for her friends and family. Every bead is hand sewn on with needle and thread.

Her hand has atrophied over the years, and she needs to rest it on a stable surface when she beads, she said. Her fingers work.

When she’s not poring over beads, she crochets lap blankets for hospice and veterans affairs patients as well as new moms with young children in a women’s shelter. Breslow donates the blankets in batches around the holidays.

“It’s perfect for someone in a wheelchair or a young child,” she said. “It makes me feel good.”

Breslow contracted polio years before Jonas Salk created a safe, effective injectable vaccine in 1954. After that, the incidence of polio fell in the United States by 85 to 90 percent from 1955 to 1957, according to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Polio cases worldwide decreased by more than 99 percent since 1988, according to the World Health Organization.

Breslow was the only one of her two brothers and sister affected by the epidemic that primarily spread among young children.

She credits her father with her craftiness. Her parents, Holocaust survivors, came to the United States from Germany with her in 1947. He painted, sewed and tailored his four children’s clothing with a sewing machine in the basement.

“He had golden hands,” she said.

Breslow worked as a speech and language therapist at a high school in the Bronx before she retired and then moved to Florida about 14 years ago. She took up beading eight or nine years ago and has embraced it with a passion.

She even takes cruises with the Bead Society of the Palm Beaches to get certain beads you can’t find anywhere else.

Traci Vanbommel, an X-ray technician at the chiropractic office where Lyna gets treatment, said she’s amazed by what Breslow can do with full use of only one hand.

“I just think she can be such an inspiration to other people out there,” Vanbommel said. “She doesn’t let her physical ability limit her in what she does.”

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