When Polio Came Home

When Polio Came Home
When Polio Came Home is about how ordinary people (and their families) overcame extraordinary challenges in the 1940s and ’50 when polio was rampant. Children as young as eleven months were hospitalized for weeks, months—even years. How did they cope? How did the families (and siblings) cope? The polio-virus attacked all ages, leaving some with no aftereffects, other confined to a wheelchair for life. These 41 stories are told by those whose lives were affected, and how they wanted to “be normal” as children, and live a full life—which they did.

This 287-page book is a collection of 41 stories told by the people who had polio as children in the 1930s, ’40, and ‘50s.  1952 was considered an epidemic year, with so many new cases a day everyone was living in a state of fear and alarm.  In one Minnesota metropolitan suburb, so many cases were announced that people actually rolled up their car windows as they drove through that area that summer. No one knew how the virus spread—but they sure knew it spread, often affecting several people in one family, the kids and sometimes a parent.

Some stories are told by those with polio, others by sisters, mothers or wives.  Each one has something unique about his or her story, but the similarities are what brings home the impact polio had on individuals, families and communities.

The subtitle, How Ordinary People Overcame Extraordinary Challenges, really says it all.

Polio was initially called infantile paralysis.  Australian nurse Sister Elizabeth Kenny (1880-1952) first encountered the symptoms as early as 1910.  Polio didn’t appear much in the United States until early 1930s.  Read this fascinating story about her work on Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Kenny.

The other interest aspect of the whole polio epidemic is that when President Roosevelt got polio at age 39, he was instrumental in starting the March of Dimes. This often involved “The Mother’s March” when mothers went door-to-door collecting dimes.  All this money collected helped pay for medical research—and an family’s expenses.

The Shriners were also instrumental in fundraising to provide FREE care—no matter how long you were hospitalized.  This shocked many families who were wondering how they were ever going to pay for their child’s expenses.  “Paid in Full, thanks to the Shriners,” was a tremendous gift to families.

Other children were hospitalized at state-funded facilities, and received no bill either.  One women in the book tells how she was hospitalized the first time four years, then later another year, and then another seven months.  She was away from home and family for a very long time.  The children also could only see their siblings through a window as they stood outside waving.

Today many of those who suffered as children are again suffering from Post-Polio Syndrome, which affects the same area as when they were children.  Many have succumbed to weakness and have been forced to go from an active lifestyle to being in a motorized cart to allow them to get around safely.

Today, thanks to the efforts of the Rotarians’ fundraising, polio has almost been eradicated from India, however, it is rearing its ugly head in countries like Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

May Americans never again experience such a national epidemic.

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