When I was asked by Shot@Life to raise awareness about the importance of global vaccinations, I enthusiastically agreed to be a voice for those without the opportunity. For so many of us, polio is just a chapter in our country’s medical history. We’ve seen photos, read news accounts, or watched films where characters (both historical and fictional) rise above the limitations that polio placed upon them to live amazing and productive lives. But because we don’t see polio, no longer experience it in the United States, we have become immune to the devastating impact that polio actually has on families and communities.
But for some, the word “polio” means a lifetime of pain and struggle.
Like my friend Rose.
In 1952, 11-month-old Rose was placed down for a nap. Rose’s mother remembers a nightmare-come-to-life for any parent: her child waking up, screaming in uncontrollable or identifiable pain. Rose was unable to move her legs, let alone stand on them. She was rushed to the hospital. After a battery of tests and a series of consultations with doctors who didn’t know what to make of her symptoms, it was finally determined that Rose had polio. She spent 100 days in the hospital, celebrating her second birthday in a wooden crib placed next to the nurse’s station. The doctor’s didn’t know the long-term impact of polio, and her family was told that she would never walk again.
While certainly Rose has had the best care she could ask for, that isn’t the case for children in Nigeria, Pakistan, or Afghanistan, where access to basic medical care, let alone specialized physical therapy or even medical equipment support such as a wheelchair or walker, are limited or altogether non-existent. And according to the World Health Organization, although polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases to 1352 reported cases in 2010, as long as a single child remains infected with polio, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease.
Rose was fortunate to have a support system that believed she was greater than simply a diagnosis. Rose’s mother asked the doctors, “What would happen if we took the leg braces off?” And while the doctors didn’t know, they didn’t think it would be any worse. They were right. Rose crawled and soon she began to walk. She would tell you that she has lived an incredibly rewarding life, filled with family and friends. However, certain effects of polio are still resonant in her life. For better or for worse, it is something that defined her, forever affecting her self esteem. There are still times when she feels great pain, and this limits her mobility. And while she has been one of the “lucky” ones, and has had the incredible fortune of bearing children and can now enjoy her eight grandchildren, she has to do it from a wheelchair. Due to the inhibited mobility combined with great pain, she recently broke her leg for the second time in six years, restricting her now to a wheelchair. Gone are the days when she could go for a walk in the park with her husband or drive herself to the grocery store. Rose’s voice swells with determination when she says “No child should ever have to feel how I have felt.”
Polio changed everything. It changes everything.
Today, October 24 is World Polio Day. While levels of polio are at an all time low, polio anywhere remains a threat to children everywhere. Eradication is in reach. But everyone must do their part in order to help #endpolio.
You can help by making a donation via Shot@Life. $50 will help vaccinate 50 children. The goal is to raise $40,000 by Halloween, thus “scaring” polio away. You can join in the conversation today on twitter for a #UNDay twitter-party from 1-2pm, along with @NPRGlobalHealth using the #endpolio hash-tag.
Let’s work together to change the story of polio. Vaccinations work. End polio today to give all children a shot at a lifetime of better health and opportunities.
Together we can make the world polio free.