By 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. I was pregnant and relaxing on the beach in front of my in-law’s cottage in Pine Orchard. My little son Bobby was digging holes in the sand with a new-found friend, while I passed time talking with the boy’s dad, a summer renter. The next day, his wife rushed over to use our phone to call an ambulance for her husband who was very sick.
I found out just how sick three days later as I heard him gasping for life in the room next to mine in the isolation ward at Grace New Haven Hospital. He had Bulbar polio from which one either dies or completely recovers. He was lucky. He recovered. My road to recovery took longer.
To everyone’s great relief, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Birch, and I was moved to the rehab ward for six months of intense physical therapy. There were many of us in the rehab ward with polio. My roommate was a nurse who had lost the use of her legs. In the next room lay an angry and terrified young woman with both arms gone. How was she going to face such a disability?
It was during our long daily therapy sessions that we saw the children, brave, chipper little kids who hated the pain but loved the attention and had no idea how their lives had changed.
Over the years, I progressed from crutches to leg brace and corset to walking unassisted. I had two more children and moved three times. Age eventually caught up with me, and I have now given my worn out body the partnership of a power wheelchair.
I only recently learned of Rotary’s longstanding commitment to eradicating polio. I joined the Rotary Club of West Hartford because I wanted to give my deep thanks to this marvelous organization, but also to try to help toward that goal. What I believe I have to give is my story. It was a horrible illness and we should all be honored when we finally reach the goal of eradication.
This is the first 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