By Jong-Geun Lee, District 3730 PolioPlus subcommittee chair and member of the Rotary Club of Wonju, Korea
I was born in a rural village in southern Korea the year after the Korean War ended. I contracted polio when I was 9 months old. I had a fever for several days and both my legs became paralyzed. My parents were teachers but had little knowledge of polio, so they relied on superstition and prayer to confront my illness. It wasn’t until I was two years old that I was finally diagnosed with polio.
I needed crutches to walk but was a cheerful and active child with many friends in the village. My younger brother carried my bag to school and back. If my classroom was not on the ground floor, my fellow students would carry me up the steps on their backs. At the time, we lived in a rented house on a hill near the school. My friends would carry me home. Even with all this help, I would fall often when my walking device became loose or the crutches caught on something, so I devoted myself to studying.
Sometimes I catch myself admiring my daughter as she reads a book at bedtime or does her math homework. These are skills we have come to expect from a child at her age. However, my memories as a young girl living with a disability from polio in Somalia are quite different.
I remember every morning I would wake at the peak of dawn, brush my teeth, comb my hair and change for the day. I then would sit outside our front door and watch as children from my neighborhood walk to school with their thermos full of water and school bags on their backs. I would wave to them with a smile but internally I was crushed.
I was a typical, energetic four-year old in South Africa, running around our house with visions of my hero, long distance runner Jan Barnard, in my head when I felt something wrong. I ran inside and told my mother, “I have a dripping tap in my chest.” This was my way of describing what I felt, my heart skipping beats now and again. My mom, Christine, pressed an ear to my chest and called our general practitioner.
That would be the last day I would run imaginary races with Barnard. I had contracted spino-bulbar polio, which destroys neurons in the brainstem causing respiratory or cardiac failure. I was given less than a 2% chance of survival. This was in 1955, during a polio epidemic in South Africa, months before the Salk Vaccine was declared safe and effective.
By Steve Stirling, a member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, Georgia, USA
They are typical job interview questions: What is your greatest strength? What is your greatest weakness?
But in my case, the interviewer often hesitates. After all, how do you ask a guy who is wearing leg braces and using crutches about his greatest weakness? It seems both obvious and insensitive. Continue reading →
As a polio survivor (age three, left with partial paralysis of one leg which did not grow as much as the other leg), all of my life I have had moments when I turned to see a child trying to imitate my walk. It was always disconcerting, and of late, just a little surprising, as when you realize toilet paper is stuck to your shoe and trailing along behind. When I matured, I could smile at the pantomime, and think, “Do I really walk like that??!” Continue reading →