Polio: A Generational Affect












When I was little I never liked getting a shot.  I cried when the doctor would come near me, just like all the other babies and toddlers in the doctors office would do.  It wasn’t until I was older and knew the story of my Papa, Leroy Kauffman’s childhood that I realized how fortunate I was to be able to receive the shots I once cried about. One of those shots prevented me, my sister, and many others of my generation from contracting polio, a disease my Papa contracted when he was only nine years old.  My generation didn’t have to worry about contracting the disease when we were nine years old like my Papa did because of the polio vaccine, but polio does still exist in three countries.   I have been following Holly’s efforts to #endpolio once and for all and felt like this was the perfect opportunity to share my Papa’s story. The following is what he wrote a few months back:


It was a very hot August day during the summer of 1941. Along with my two brothers and one of my two sisters I was helping to prepare vegetables from our garden for canning. My job was to hull the sugar peas.

I recall standing up, excusing myself saying I didn’t feel well and going to bed in the main part of the house. The next morning I could not move; I was stiff as a board. My widowed mother went to a neighbor’s house to call a doctor. On his arrival he took one look at me and said to my mother, “polio”. I was nine years old.

After spending two weeks at home in strict isolation, I was admitted to the Elizabethtown Hospital for Crippled Children in Elizabethtown, PA. The hospital was about an hour from my hometown of Lebanon, PA. During the period of isolation there was a big sign tacked on the fence post stating—“POLIO NO ADMITTANCE”. We were not allowed to ship milk to the dairy so our only source of income was to sell a few chickens. My admittance to Elizabethtown was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Not only did I have polio and was confined to a bed, but I was in a place that I had never heard of.

This would be the start of a twenty-seven month controversial treatment for polio started by a Lutheran nurse, Sister Kenney. There were many so-called experts who did not agree with her “hot pack” treatment. Lucky for me I was under the care of those who agreed with her and I was started on her treatment.  It was my one chance to lead a normal life. About six to seven weeks after starting the heat pack treatment, I was up on my feet and on my way home.

Prior to being treated with her method, I was strapped for about two years on a “Bradford Frame”. This frame was designed to reduce any movement to zero or near zero. After being strapped to this frame for two years, I can remember the first night I slept on a mattress like it was just yesterday. Sister Kenney proved that using her hot packs, which relaxed the muscles, was the preferred treatment method.

For six to seven months during 1946-1947, I was again admitted to Elizabethtown for surgery on my feet. And then in the late 1940’s I was admitted for a muscle transplant on my right hand.

Following high school and business school I accepted a job as office manager at a new car dealer. About seven years later I accepted a position in the Sales Department of a firm that manufactured and sold products for the animal health industry. By this time I was married and had three daughters. Years later I was offered an out of state job transfer, but was not willing to uproot my family. My wife and I decided we would start a sales company to sell the same type of products I had previously sold.

I told my family that we were only going to have one chance at making our company, Agricore, Inc., a success. To borrow a line from a friend of mine, we had to ‘hang in together every day’ and we did hang in there together every day with the help of family, customers and very good suppliers. At 80 years old I am still running the business I started 35 years ago.

Looking back my success was due not only to my early work experience, but it is also due to my experience with polio. My experience with polio always made me extra anxious to be successful and caused me to work harder for the past seventy years to overcome any obstacles, which have stood in my way.

If you’d like to get involved in ending polio once and for all sign the petition to urge world leaders to fund the gap. Only 1% of the world remains polio-endemic. You can find the petition here.


Eliza Rothstein is currently a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is a member of Pi Beta Phi and part of the Each One Teach One tutoring program, which helps inner city St. Louis kids. She enjoys travelling, being with her family and friends and is a self-proclaimed foodie. After interning for MOMentum this summer, Eliza is now addicted to all things social!

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