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.

I met so many people from different organizations: I was introduced to Peter Salk, Jonas Salk’s son who discovered the original polio vaccine. We had a great conversation about his work preserving his dad’s legacy at the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation.

I met representatives from Global Poverty Project, Lions Clubs International, WHO, UNICEF, Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, top executives from Rotary International, and Canadian Rotarian Ramesh Ferris, a polio survivor, who hand-cycled 7,140 kilometers across Canada for polio eradication. I met three wonderful Rotarians from Ossining, New York; one polio survivor who has been a Rotarian for 46 years and two past district governors.

Hundreds of world leaders from all walks of life gathered to show their continued and renewed commitment to “End Polio Now.” It was amazing to see the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan sit next to each other for the entire event. That in itself was a true sign of unity against polio.

For me, one of the special moments of this event was when the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard spoke of Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian trained in nursing, and her methods of treating polio victims with physical therapy in the 1940s and 50s. Tears came to my eyes because my mom performed Kenny’s therapy on me and I consider that the only reason why I was able to walk, play sports, and be “normal.”

Over all, it was one of the defining moments in the past decades to unite world leaders through UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s dedication to make polio eradication his major effort during his term. It was one of my “aha” and “wow” Rotary moments!

  • In celebration of World Polio Day 24 October, you can be part of the effort to make the World’s Biggest Commercial. Find out more
  • Learn more about how you can help at www.endpolionow.org
  • Purchase End Polio Now, an album of songs performed by Rotary polio ambassadors, to be released on World Polio Day. The album will be available as a digital download through iTunes, and soon as a CD from shop.rotary.org.
  • Contribute now to end polio.
  • Read more stories from polio survivors

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