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.
I contracted polio when I was two years old. I was the only polio case in town, but my family never thought of the “why” or the “what if,” but instead, “let’s get on with it.” So the braces and operations and therapy were just a part of our family’s life in Streator, Illinois, USA.
Except when I was at a college party, and a girl asked me why I limped. When I told her, she replied, “Oh, your poor mother. For your whole life she looks at you and blames herself for not protecting her baby.” I laughed then, thinking of my tiny but formidable mother reaching that awfully unfair conclusion.
She died 50 years to the day I contracted polio. I thought back to what that girl had said as I gave my mom’s eulogy, and wrote a memoir about our life together, “The Story of Iris.” My editors were so moved, the story was shared from Palm Springs to Peoria to Paris.
Too Early for Flowers
Based on that reception, I wrote a book, “Too Early for Flowers: The Story of a Polio Mother.” It is much richer in detail, and somewhat fictionalized, as mom didn’t talk about those early years. She said she couldn’t remember too much about the morning I couldn’t stand up, or exactly how long I was in the hospital, or if she was concerned for her own health.
So I used other mothers’ memories, strangers who shared a common bond in their grief. It’s a small book, available on Amazon.com, only about a 100 pages. But I so hope it shows how a disabled child changes a family; makes it tougher, kinder, and more ready to face life’s challenges.
Mom and I certainly faced challenges. My father died shortly after I was diagnosed with polio. My brother died a year after graduating from Virginia Military Institute.
I am elated that Ksenia Solo, a young actress, was so moved by the story she optioned the screen rights and will produce and star in a movie based on the book, through her company OnFire Films. The world will see Iris play my mom, as she prepares me for my journeys in life, fighting prejudice, battling fatigue, and returning to care for her.
Putting an end to polio
And Ksenia has become active in the polio eradication fight. In a few hours last month, she assembled people from four nations to join in a Purple Pinkie campaign (named for the purple dye that is used to mark the little fingers of children immunized during immunization drives.) Her film and example will accomplish so much more.
For this cruel disease that cripples children must die, and no more kids or mothers should suffer.
Wow. Mom, played by a movie star. I hope that makes up for everything, and that she is smiling down at us all.
- 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