Why polio eradication means so much to me

Diane WIlkins in an iron lung

Grant Wilkins’ first wife, Diane, in an iron lung in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Grant Wilkins.

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. Continue reading

How polio changed my life

Pulmão de Aço (Iron Lung), published this year in Brazil, tells the story of Eliana Zagui, a polio survivor who has lived for decades in a hospital in Brazil.

Pulmão de Aço (Iron Lung), published this year in Brazil, tells the story of Eliana Zagui, a polio survivor who has lived for decades in a hospital in Brazil.

By Eliana Zagui, author of Pulmão de Aço (Iron Lung)

Before it was eradicated through the effort of massive immunization campaigns in 1989, poliomyelitis was prevalent in Brazil. The lack of vaccine and poor sanitation in small towns resulted in thousands of victims a year. Avoiding polio was often a matter of luck.

In January 1976, at the age of two, my luck ran out. I woke up with a fever and weak lower limbs. Although my parents were used to my recurrent episodes of sore throat, they brought me to the nearest city of Jaboticabal for medical treatment. The next day, lacking a diagnosis, I was sent to Ribeirão Preto, a larger city with better medical facilities. By the time the doctors Continue reading

My brush with polio

131002_hincksBy Polly Hincks, polio survivor and member of the Rotary Club of West Hartford, Connecticut, USA

Polio is a mystery. In its time it brought terror. It indiscriminently struck with minor flu-like illness in one person, death to the person next door, paralysis of the muscles in a leg or shoulder, or a lifetime spent in an iron lung.

I met up with this evil bug in August 1951. Continue reading

Our award-winning blog

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We are happy to announce that Rotary Voices has won two 2013 EXCEL Awards from Association Media & Publishing. A blog post from past RI director Grant Wilkins, “Why Congress’ support for polio eradication means so much to me,” received a gold and the blog itself captured a bronze. Continue reading

One polio survivor to another: meeting India’s last case of polio

Polio survivor and Rotarian Ramesh Ferris meets Rukhsar Khatoon, India's last reported case of polio.

Polio survivor and Rotarian Ramesh Ferris meets Rukhsar Khatoon, India’s last reported case of polio.

By Ramesh Ferris, a member of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse-Rendezvous, Yukon, Canada

This month, around the second anniversary of India going polio-free, I traveled to southern India to meet my biological father for the first time. Rotary International also arranged for me to meet another special person, Rukhsar Khatoon, who at 13-months of age, contracted the last reported case of polio in India in 2011. Continue reading

Polio survivors share a wealth of insight

John H.G. Soe at the 2012 RI Convention in Bangkok, Thailand.

By John H.G. Soe, a polio survivor and member of Rotary Club of Jakarta Sentral, Indonesia

At the age of four months, I was stricken with polio. My parents, due to their superstitions and lack of understanding, abandoned me to the nuns of a Catholic orphanage in Medan, Indonesia. It was a huge orphanage of 200 children, and I remember listening to the bells and sounds of prayers.

On school holidays, relatives would come and pick up many of the children, but not me. I was always left alone. I had never been cuddled or carried on someone’s lap. I had never known my parents, but only the gentle kindness of the nuns. I was starving for the warmth of family love. Continue reading

The struggles of a Puerto Rican polio survivor

Laura Blizzard

By Laura Blizzard, assistant governor of District 7000 and a member of the Rotary Club of Santurce, Puerto Rico

I met Maria while assisting with the End Polio Now lighting of the capitol in San Juan on 23 February, 2011. My telephone number was published in a local newspaper article about Rotary’s polio eradication efforts, and she called to offer her support and help. She said she understood better than many the importance of these efforts. I asked her how. This is her story:

My name is Maria L. Diaz Vargas. I am a polio survivor. I contracted the virus in 1964 when I was three years old. Continue reading

Polio survivor’s book reveals the trials of a polio mom

Kurt Sipolski

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

As World Polio Day approaches 24 October, I would bet most Americans thinking about polio have a hazy recollection of a long-dead U.S. president in a wheelchair, or else they have images of a more recent portrayal of a polio survivor such as the one in the new movie, The Sessions.

But for survivors like me, and for all the Rotarians and their polio eradication partners battling to finally eradicate the disease from the world, the day is a time for memory and unity. Continue reading

A polio survivor’s “aha” moment

John Nanni at the UN General Assembly special session to “Unite Against Polio” 27 September.

By John Nanni, a member of the Rotary Club of Hamilton Township, New Jersey, USA

As a polio survivor who was paralyzed from my neck down for six months, and as a Rotarian, I had the honor of being a part of the Rotary PolioPlus delegation to the UN General Assembly special session to “Unite Against Polio” on 27 September.

My day started early – I was so excited and nervous I couldn’t sleep. I was worried about being a good representative of our club and of the more than 20 million polio survivors. Continue reading

Taking big bites out of polio in the Big Apple

Ramesh Ferris (right) meets with Neil Young, also a polio survivor, during the Global Citizen Festival.

By Ramesh Ferris, polio survivor and member of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse-Rendezvous, Yukon, Canada

In late September, I traveled to New York City to attend two events to promote global polio eradication. To say my weekend in the Big Apple was amazing would be an understatement.

Consider these memories: Joining Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, and others in sharing the urgency of polio eradication with world leaders assembled for the UN General Assembly during a special side session on polio. Continue reading