By Grant Wilkins, past RI director and member of the Rotary Club of Denver, Colorado, USA.
In 1951, as a young father of three children ages 5, 2, and 3-months (the youngest born prematurely and still in the hospital), I contracted Bulbar Polio.
My throat and vocal cords were paralyzed, and I couldn’t talk or swallow. A tracheotomy and intravenous feedings kept me alive for two weeks until the paralysis started letting up.
My wife came to visit me for the first time after those two weeks, and mentioned she wasn’t feeling well. A spinal tap found she had the Lumbar Polio virus, and she was immediately admitted to the polio ward. Within 24 hours, she was completely paralyzed from the neck down and could not breathe on her own.
I recovered from the virus within a few months following voice lessons, therapy, etc. But my wife remained in an iron lung for two and a half years. In 1954, a chest respirator was invented that helped her to breathe, and she was allowed to come home. We built a house equipped with a hospital bed and other medical equipment, and hired an around the clock nurse to help care for her.
She never regained any movement, but was able to breathe and talk when her respirator worked. Power failures caused anxious moments many times during the 13 years she lived after contacting polio. Our three children grew up with a mother who couldn’t do anything physical for them, but gave them vocal guidance the best that she could. She couldn’t hug them, feed them, go to school with them, dress them. They learned how to help with their mother every day, as well as help me with daily chores.
Polio is a horrible and devastating disease which can ruin individual lives and greatly impact the lives of families.
Through Rotary’s Polio Plus program launched in 1985, I have been able to be active in a worldwide effort to eradicate this dreaded disease from our planet. It is an historic endeavor and the U.S. Congress has been a leader through contributions of over US$2 billion to the cause. Rotary International’s investment exceeds $1 billion, with additional funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many other governments.
Of course, this program would not have been possible without the technical oversight of the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF. I am also proud to say that my Denver Rotary Club is among the clubs that have contributed the most toward polio eradication.
Wilkins’ blog post first appeared on Rotary Voices in April 2012, and received a gold 2013 EXCEL award. This is the latest in a series of stories from polio survivors, experts, and volunteers working alongside us to eradicate polio, in honor of World Polio Day 24 October. Find out how you can make a difference by:
- Visiting the World Polio Day: Making History Livestream page to add the event to your calendar.
- Embedding the Livestream video player on your website or Facebook page.
- Downloading a World Polio Day toolkit for sample social media posts and graphics.
- Adding a World Polio Day: Making History cover photo to your Facebook page.
- Reading blog posts from other polio survivors