Remembering Jonas Salk on the anniversary of his birthday

Kurt Sipolski

Kurt Sipolski

By Kurt Sipolski, freelance writer, polio survivor, and resident of Palm Desert, California, USA 

Years ago, I founded and published a magazine for homeowners and designers, San Francisco Gentry magazine. 

It was easy to target advertisers. While homeowners don’t necessarily eat out more than renters, they sure as heck hire builders and landscapers more often.

One time, I called a fire contractor to sell him an ad. I had used him when an apartment in a building I owned caught fire. After refreshing his memory of who I was, he replied, “Oh, I  remember. You’re the cripple.” 

I was so astonished, that all I could think of to say was, “Technically, I suppose, because I had polio, you are correct. But I don’t like your connotation of that word, and I won’t call again.”

It did and does remind me of how far we have come in the United States in terms of viewing the disabled. Today marks the birthday of Jonas Salk (1914-1995), who developed the first vaccine against polio. It made me think of the strides we have taken since that period.

Salk’s vaccine was cleared for general use in 1955, and was eventually followed by Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine. The disease then and now has helped unite many behind a single cause, kill this virus that is targeting our kids.

The March of Dimes was founded by a ton of dimes landing on desks in Washington D.C., and helped not only to end the disease in the United States, but to benefit the families of polio survivors.  My mother, a widow, very gratefully used it for all my therapy and operations and later became president of our local chapter in Illinois.

Unfortunately, many polio survivors who lived successful and productive lives now suffer from post-polio syndrome, which mimics all the discomfort and weakness suffered when the disease first struck. The neurons are shot after decades of use and overuse. I know it is terribly discouraging.

Thank God, there are only a few cases of polio left in the world. And with the help of Rotary, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the other partner organizations in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, we are closing in on finally exterminating this virus. Even facing death in some countries, polio eradication volunteers are out their bravely getting the job done.

Actresses like Archie Panjabi and Mia Farrow and Ksenia Solo have lent their names and donated their time to the cause. Ms. Solo has optioned the rights to adapt my book to the screen. The film will highlight the unspoken courage of a million mothers who suffered just as much as their kids, only in their souls.

 It is one thing to help a cause when someone immediate to you is affected, but entirely magnanimous to help others purely because no one else is helping them.

Cases of acute flaccid paralysis are being investigated in war-torn Syria, and the polio virus has been found recently in sewage in Jerusalem. It is as important as ever to maintain vigilance against this disease until it is finally eradicated.

Good people are doing good things in the fight against polio, and deserve our support. Noblesse Oblige.

13 thoughts on “Remembering Jonas Salk on the anniversary of his birthday

  1. Thanks Kurt Sipolski for describing his memory as a Polio survivor. Very interesting, I came to know some valuable information which I may share with my Rotary friends. –Sk Abdul Hadi, RC Khulna North, RID 3281.

  2. An excellent information that would enlighten all Rotarians – thanq Kurt Sipoloski
    By the way why should not R I declare Oct 28 – the birth day of Jonas Salk – as the World Polio Day – instead of Oct 24, that coincides with UN Day
    Rtn PP Prof R Panchanadhan, R C Tiruchirapalli, D 3000

  3. In 1954 I was inoculated for Polio by my father who was a gastroenterologist whose practice was in Bronx, NY. My father of blessed memory was a personal friend of Dr Salk. I received the vaccine before the general public.

    The media blitz on our new TV was scary. Pictures of kids with abnormalities and the sight of the Iron Lung gave me nightmares. I am thankful that I was among the fortunate kids.

    Today, I am active in promoting PolioPlus. I went over to Moradabad, India in 2011 and “saved lives”. I even donated a limb for a polio victim.

    Thank you Kurt for posting this. Dr. Salk did not win the Nobel Prize. What a shame!

    Marilyn Axler

  4. Our Rotary E-Club of South Africa One celebrated World Polio Day by having an awareness exhibition at a shopping Mall in Durban South Africa.It was quiet amazing to hear how little the general public knew about polio and the fact that it still had not been eradicated completely. ” I thought polio was finished” was a common reply. We also spoke to people who had a family member who was a polio victim and in particular heard a mothers story how her daughter contracted polio at 18 months and through perseverance was able to walk again 16 years later!!!The daughter is now 58.

    • I fell and broke my toe onboard a ship once when it lurched…was totally prepared to have to educate the Dr. on board..but the young guy was from Capetown and knew exactly what should be said and done and asked ..I was so impressed..

  5. Thanks, Kurt Sipolski, for sharing your memories with all of us. It is amazing that even nowadays how some diseases are viewed by the public. It reminds me a classmate with metal devices in his leg that could hardly walk due to polio and how the students treat him differently and not nicely. Rotary is close to end this tragedy! Many years later I met Dr. Sabin on a flight to NYC and had a chance of talking to him, a remarkable memory of a great person.

  6. As a polio survivor I am very grateful to Dr. Jonas Salk for his work in 1953-55. Unfortunate for me I was born too early. In 1948 I was stricken with polio at the age of 6 1/2 months. My sister, 2 1/2 years older, was never affected by the disease. Post polio is now with me every day. I was able to rid myself of braces at age 16. I continued with a professional degree as a Registered Dental Assistant and worked in the profession for 42 years. My husband of 44 years and three grown children are a constant support to me. Since my retirement, I have enjoyed speaking about my challenges and my memoir that I published with Inspiring Voices in August 2012. “All The Steps I Have Taken” has helped me find many polio survivors and my journey has been fulfilling. My life has been great. I enjoy now talking to 5-6th grades about challenges. The work of Bill and Melinda Gates is to be honored and with the help of many Rotarians it will get completed. “End Polio Now” will happen in my lifetime.

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