Nancy Zieman has never kept any secrets about her facial paralysis — after all, it's right there when she is on TV every Saturday morning.
But the host of public television's "Sewing With Nancy" and founder of a Beaver Dam company, Nancy's Notions, got a bit of a jolt recently when she searched for herself online to look for a photo.
"About the third one down said, ‘Nancy Zieman's face,' and it was kind of like someone punching you in the stomach," she said. "I thought, ‘OK, it's time.'"
On Saturday, part of Zieman's show that airs on Wisconsin Public Television is dedicated to talking about the Bell's palsy that struck when she was a toddler and left the right side of her face paralyzed.
Instead of leaving the topic to people in chat rooms who wonder if she had a car accident or a stroke, Zieman discusses it and similar health issues with Dr. Justin Sattin, medical director of UW Health's Comprehensive Stroke Program.
Bell's palsy is the result of swelling or inflammation of the nerve that controls facial muscles. Half of the face can droop; a smile becomes, literally, a half smile. For most, it is a temporary condition and is often treated with steroids.
Zieman was told her facial paralysis resulted from an ear infection.
Zieman, who lives in Beaver Dam, first appeared on cable in 1982, making her show the longest-running sewing show on television. Her program first ran nationally on the Satellite Program Network. At the time, cable viewership wasn't that vast, but she still had concerns about being on TV.
"I didn't want to crack a smile or do anything that would show my handicap," she said. "But then I realized people were not tuning in to look at me, they were tuning in to learn."
Three years later, Nebraska Public Television wanted to air her program. It was the foot in the door to the public television audience she had wanted. Now it is co-produced by Zieman and Wisconsin Public Television and seen in 89 percent of the nation's public television markets.
Zieman has discussed her facial paralysis in public talks and in books, but never on her program. Saturday's episode has already aired in some markets, and Zieman has received e-mails of support from viewers.
"One said she never noticed," Zieman said. "I thought that was kind of unusual."
Zieman sold Nancy's Notions to the Tacony Corp. in 2003 but stays on as a spokeswoman for the company that sells sewing, quilting and embroidery supplies.