I love Twitter because you meet people you would never otherwise meet in a million years and from all over the world. Last week on behalf of World Polio Day, I was tweeting up a storm about polio and met a man, Graham Ramsey, who was struck by polio in 1956 when he was 18 months old. It was an epidemic back then with 58,000 cases in 1952 alone. I’ve spoken to my mom about that time and she said it was a very scary time for everyone was afraid they might contract it. And I had no idea I had an Uncle with polio till I started talking about polio and the importance of vaccines.
Since the introduction of the polio vaccine, polio was wiped out significantly. There were 350,000 cases in 1988 but just 223 cases in 2012. And polio remains endemic in only three remaining countries Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan although there has been a recent outbreak in Syria.
So Graham spotted my tweets as he was also using Twitter to raise awareness about the need to put and end to polio and reached out to me. I asked him if he would tell his story. He said, “Of course.” and we exchanged emails.
Graham started by telling me, “I was crippled in my right leg and thank goodness I wasn’t in a iron lung. What is an iron lung? It’s a tank respirator where polio victims lived, if you can call it living, who needed help breathing due to polio’s effect on the paralyzed muscles in their chests. I can only imagine what a life lived in an iron lung must be like.”
As a child, Graham hid the fact he had polio, “I learned at an early age to try to hide the fact that I had had polio because you were seen as a easy target.” As mothers we know full well the cruelty children can place on other children. Imagine being a child who just wants to be normal and play like the other children having to hide to be accepted.
And sadly with Graham’s working life he said, “I didn’t own up to having polio because I knew that cripples didn’t get jobs easily, which is a fact. And by hiding my polio I was able to work as a trained nurse for 32 years before the effect of polio hit me again. The muscles in my effected leg started to die off. So eight years ago I had to start taking major painkillers. I’ve also had to adapt my home with a motorized stairlift and must use a walking stick to get around. I have a worker’s pension and a disability living allowance to live off now, but the UK government is eliminating the allowance so people like me soon will have to return to work. Will I manage this? I’m not sure.
“First, the pain does tend to wear you down but it makes you a better person and in my case a better nurse. The pain is a motivator and because we have the vaccines to stop polio it makes me angry that this disease still exists,” said Graham.
We’re close to eradicating polio from the face of the earth and with a concerted effort from every citizen, corporate donations, the conviction of the Presidents of the last three remaining countries and many NGOs, we can end polio so no other child has to live a life with polio and spend it hiding so no one will think they are a cripple.
Join the UN Shot@Life Champions on raising awareness and support for the importance of life-saving vaccinations.