By Ann Lee Hussey, polio survivor and member of the Rotary Club of Portland Sunrise, Maine, USA.
As a 17-month-old toddler, I contracted polio. Burning up with fever, I was paralyzed from the waist down. It was July 1955, only three months after Jonas Salk’s vaccine was released to the public. I was lucky to regain the use of most but not all of my leg muscles. Today, after multiple surgeries, braces, and physical therapy, I am able to walk with limitations.
My husband introduced me to Rotary, and I soon discovered they were leading the effort to eradicate polio. With my interest peaked, I took my first international trip and it forever changed my life. I traveled to India to participate in National Immunization Days (NID) in January 2001. People crawling on the ground, severely crippled from polio roamed the streets to beg. The sight of young children, their knees and hands thick with callouses, broke my heart. That was my Rotary moment, realizing I had to help prevent other children from suffering the same fate.
In December, I led my sixth team of volunteers to Nigeria for my 21st NID. My focus remained vaccinating as many children as I could, looking for changes from my last visit. We were there to thank the workers who carried out these campaigns regularly all year.
I am hopeful that the presence of concerned visitors, who spent their own money to visit, motivates them to do more. Though the number of polio cases in Nigeria may seem small to some, active transmission of the wild polio virus puts large segments of the population at risk and increases the risk of cases being exported to neighboring countries.
Rotary and our global polio eradication partners, WHO, UNICEF, and CDC, are strengthening their efforts and are placing greater demands upon Nigeria to finish the job. It is a global emergency. Our goal must be achieved for the health of future generations of all children.
My journey with polio will continue. There are many more steps for all of us, as we follow the path to the end of polio. Will you help?