Albion Rotarians join effort to end polio

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 October 2020 at 9:13 am

Rotary members will be riding bikes, walking and jogging to raise money for polio vaccinations

File photo by Tom Rivers: Don Bishop, shown in this photo from April 2018 in his dental office, is leading an effort to raise money for polio vaccinations. His mother contracted polio when she was 34 and died two years later after being paralyzed from the neck down.

ALBION – Some members of the Albion Rotary Club will be riding bikes, walking and jogging this week in an effort to raise money to fight polio.

That virus which causes paralysis isn’t in the news much these days. But it still remains in the world, with cases recently detected in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Rotary has made fighting polio an international mission and a major worldwide effort has brought down the cases from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to 33 in 2018, according to the World Health Organization.

Don Bishop, a retired Albion dentist, knows personally how devastating polio can be. His mother Harriett contracted polio at age 34 in 1955. She was paralyzed from the neck down for two years and died at age 36 after getting pneumonia.

His mother was in an iron lung machine to stimulate breathing in the polio ward at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what my family did in the ’50s,” Bishop said.

Bishop, a member of the Albion Rotary Club, suspects his mother contracted the virus while swimming in a quarry in Westchester County, where he grew up. His sister also has polio which has weakened her right wrist.

Rotary District 7090, which includes about 70 Rotary Clubs in WNY and Canada, is trying to raise $200,000 to fight polio, which is nearly eradicated but recent cases have been found in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Bishop has been the longtime leader of the Polio Plus effort in the Albion Rotary Club, raising money for the polio vaccinations.

He will be riding his bike 25 miles this week, covering distance between Holley and Spencerport. He has sponsors in a lump sum and others giving him money for each mile.

Other Rotary Club members will also be riding bikes, walking and jogging on their own and not in a group. (Orleans Hub editor Tom Rivers plans to run 10 miles from Holley to Albion for the cause.)

The Rotary Club has cancelled most of its events and fundraisers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That includes a St. Patrick’s ham dinner back in March, the Strawberry Festival in June and a fishing derby in August.

Marlee Diehl, the club president, challenged the local Rotarians to be part of the 7090 Rotary District effort to raise $200,000 for polio. That money will be tripled with a 2-to-1 match from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, turning the $200,000 into $600,000. District 7090 includes about 70 Rotary Clubs in Western New York and Southern Ontario.

 ‘We have to stay vigilant. Polio can start up again if it’s not watched.’ – Don Bishop

Diehl said it has been a great achievement for Rotary and the international community to drastically reduce polio in the world. But she said the health organizations and Rotary need to keep the pressure on and get vaccinations where polio remains.

“If we shift our attention away from it, it will be back,” Diehl said. “It’s only a plane ride away.”

She remembers getting vaccinated in the 1950s at school in Canada. At the time, there was grave concern in the U.S. and Canada about polio.

“We can’t give up until it’s gone,” she said.

Courtesy of Rotary International: Rotary helps bring vaccinations to the remaining areas where polio is still detected.

Bishop, who worked 37 years as a dentist in Albion, was 7 when his mother contracted polio. He went to visit her every weekend in New York City the next two years. He said his mother learned to paint holding a brush with her teeth. She remained upbeat in the polio ward, trying to encourage the other patients.

“She was paralyzed from the neck down, but she was always trying to cheer people up,” Bishop said.

The Rotary Club bestows a Paul Harris Fellow as its highest honor, named for the Rotary founder. The Albion club has given that award in memory of Bishop’s mother.

“We have to stay vigilant,” Bishop said about the fight against polio. “Nothing is ever a gimme in this world. Polio can start up again if it’s not watched.”

People interested in donating can contact Diehl at (585) 755-4334 or they can send a check to Albion Rotary Club with “Polio” in the subject line, P.O. Box 356, Albion NY 14411.

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