Tauranga's Jim Savage could have been an All Black.

He loved his sports, and he was good at them.

But a chipped tooth during a football match is what may have changed his life forever.

It was early on a Sunday morning in 1958. A 22-year-old Jim had gone deer hunting in his hometown of Kawerau.

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When he went to bed, everything had seemed normal apart from an aching jaw from breaking his tooth during a football match the day before and a sore leg.

But when he woke up at 5.30am to check the deer, he couldn't walk.

"I went to get up and I had no leg, it was gone. It wouldn't work."

The car was an hour away, but it took Jim about five hours to crawl back to it.

"I used a rifle as a crutch," he said. "I had to come down a hill, across a wire rope, back up the other side of the valley to the car, got home and the doctor couldn't see me until Monday."

But he was determined to get back to the car. "I thought, 'I'm like I am, let's get back to the car.' What could you do?"

So Jim went to bed, but the next morning he fell out of the top bunk. The feeling in his other leg had gone too.

Jim was soon diagnosed with poliomyelitis, or polio - a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease which can affect a person's brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis.

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He didn't know what polio was, but he believes he contracted the virus when he broke his tooth during the football match.

The now 82-year-old, who has called Tauranga home since 2010, said he was bedridden for "a long time" and was taught to try and use his legs again.

"I couldn't get them to move. But me being me I got down on my hands and knees and crawled to the bath, crawled to the toilet, crawled all over the place," he said.

"That's me. Get up and go. Don't chuck in... I was determined not to let it get me down. If you let something like that get you down you lose contact with everyone."

Jim was working in the office at a timber yard in Kawerau when he met his wife Madeleine, whom he married in 1963.

"We became good friends and it evolved from there," Madeleine said. "He was always a lot of fun to be around, always happy and cheerful and positive."

The pair raised three children together, two girls and a boy.

His son Danny said his father was a very fit man before polio. "They reckoned he could have possibly made an All Black, he was a very good rugby player," he said.

But Danny said his father had achieved more being disabled than he had when he was able-bodied.

In 1991, Jim went to South America where he rowed in a catamaran for disabled people, which had two wheelchairs on either side and was hand propelled.

They rowed down Lake Titicaca in Peru, where he and Danny visited a hospital of about 400 people - most of them suffering from polio, including children younger than 14.

Danny said people were "kicked out" of hospital once they turned 14 and on to the streets.

"We came across people, especially in Cusco, a guy just dragging himself along with two blocks of timber because he had polio," he said.

At that time, things like wheelchairs and crutches were a luxury, Danny said. So, when the pair returned to New Zealand, the pair raised enough funds to fill a 12m-tall container of them and shipped them back to Peru.

"We are very lucky in New Zealand not to be faced with that scenario," Danny said. "Now there is hardly a polio case around in New Zealand."

What is polio?
- Polio is a highly contagious disease that attacks the nervous system
- Children under 5 are most likely to contract the virus
- According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 200 polio infections result in permanent paralysis
- The polio vaccine was developed in 1953 and made available in 1957
Source: www.healthline.com