Often we know the word for a bad thing without knowing much about the bad thing.  Such is my knowledge of polio, the crippling disease of the central nervous system.  When I was a kid, I knew it by its other name, Infantile Paralysis

Today immunization is routine and polio is absent from our national consciousness; that is, until you meet a polio victor and hear her story.

Eileen is the first person I ever met who had polio as a child.

Although diagnosed at the age of four, she had no overt paralysis and had a normal childhood.  But spinal curvature progressed and, at age eleven, it became clear corrective surgery would be required.  For the next three and a half years she was in and out of operating rooms, hospitals and body casts. Determined to have a normal teenage life, she attended school activities, sports events, dances, and proms.  After graduation, rather than college, she opted for the socialization of the working world and got a job as a secretary.

But the physical and emotional effects of the polio continued to motivate and influence her decisions throughout her life and affect her marriage, her children, and earning a masters degree.  At the top of her career Eileen was a supervisor in a county child protection agency.

Today, a retired 60-year-old, living in an upscale retirement community,  she ‘rods around in her souped-up golf cart with her two companions, Brodie and Dixie, a couple of middle-aged labs.  Eileen is a staff writer for her community magazine, writes mystery novels, plays bridge, and poker, and has performed in community variety shows.

Other polio victors you may have heard of:  Alan Alda, Donald Sutherland, Mia Farrow. Francis Ford Coppola, Itzhak Perlman, Dinah Shore, Robert McNamara, Wilma Rudolph, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Nicklaus, Bud Grant, and Heisman Trophy Winner, Pete Dawkins.

11 Responses to Polio

  1. Chip Levine says:


    I remember standing in line as a young child to get a sugar cube with the vaccine.

    Amazing what we can do when we put our minds to it. Just went to the funeral of a local fire fighter who died of kidney cancer at 52. Another friend died of lung cancer – never smoked! – last month at age 60. Maybe one of these days we’ll get a handle on cancer like we did with polio…



  2. Helen Herzberg says:

    I too remember polio – my father, the local GP, vaccinated thousands of children. My brother and I were also in the clinical trials, and I remember getting shots week after week after week. Yes, I’ve known a few others that survived the disease, and it often seems to have crippled minds as well as bodies.


  3. Amazing and inspirational. I knew one polio victim when I was very young. She was my age and I don’t remember her name.

  4. karen says:

    My mother had polio as a young adult in 1953, several months after I was born. My sister and I were ill shortly before she got sick and the doctors hypothosized we may have had mild cases, but there is no way to know. My mom spent almost a year in an iron lung, back when that was what was used as a respirator. She had ‘bulbar polio’ which effects the lungs and chest muscles. She, fortunately for her and me and the rest of the family, was one of the few who recovered and was able to be taken out of the iron lung. She was considered a ‘miracle’ case. She is now getting ready to celebrate her 80th birthday in June.

    She does have ‘post polio syndrome’ which is effecting her legs and back, but she pushes on and lives as active a life as she can.

    Just as an aside, polio is not gone. There are still cases of it in today’s world, including right here in the states. As more and more young parents decide not to vaccinate their children because of the remote possibility, real or imagined, of side effects, more and more children will get it again. My mother instilled in me the notion that getting vaccinated was not just an individual matter, but a social responsibility. I still believe that.

    Take care and Happy New Year !!!!!

  5. AL PEDERSEN says:


  6. Joyce Henderson says:

    My sister had polio in the fifties. I could barely walk and I remember the doctor visits. My mother was the most courageous and brave woman. She worked with my sister who today is perfect! She has not had any repercussions but it is in the back of her mind that it could recur…let’s thank the heavens that we have our health!

  7. Guts, grit– sink or swim.

  8. gloria reid says:

    I’ had the honor of serving Dr. Jonas Salk, discoverer of the polio vaccine, on a Pan Am flight in the 60’s. He was a lovely, quiet, genteel gentleman.

  9. Christine Thomas says:

    Al-Yes, many of us do remember how devastating that disease used to be-remember “Iron Lung” treatments? How far medicine has come!
    Yet, we are still threatened with so many new diseases. Or old ones even! When it comes to our health, we just never know when something totally hits us and comes from “out of the blue’ as it were.
    I have just recovered from “Vertigo”- hit me like a ton of bricks….three weeks of walking around like a drunk, terrible nausea, trip to ER, no known cause, dizziness rendering one unable to function…we really do need to take care of ourselves and to appreciate good health….not being healthy is awful!
    We are on the verge of so many novel medical discoveries…it is amazing how far we’ve come, yet the #1 cause of death worldwide is still diarrhea….go figure….

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