Rotarians stay committed to eradicating polio
Local dentist shares how polio took his mother’s life when he was a young boy
By Kim Pritt, Correspondent
ALBION – Rotary Club International joined the fight to eradicate polio in 1985 with their Polio Plus Program – a world-wide commitment to raise funds and awareness to combat this devastating disease.
Poliovirus is a highly contagious virus that affects humans with no known cure. At one time 350,000 children were diagnosed with polio each year world-wide. Through research and vaccines made available in the early 1950s, polio has been nearly wiped out in most of the world.
This past year, only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – have reported new cases of polio and Africa has not seen a new case in over a year. However, as long as there continue to be new cases reported, Rotary Club International’s Polio Plus Program will continue its work to raise awareness and funds.
Locally, Albion Rotary Club has been a strong supporter of the Polio Plus Program since its inception in 1985. To commemorate World Polio Day, the Albion club devoted its regular Thursday meeting to raising awareness and funds for this disease and the program committed to eradicating it.
The eradication of polio is not only a priority for the Albion Rotary Club, but it is also very personal for Albion Rotary member, Don Bishop.
Bishop spoke at the Thursday meeting about his personal experience with polio. When he was a child, his family was exposed to the poliovirus, resulting in two of his family members contracting the disease. Bishop’s mother was severely afflicted with the disease, causing her to be completely paralyzed from the neck down and confined to an iron lung.
Bishop talked about visiting his mother in a clinic in New York City where she was isolated with other polio victims in an effort to control the spread of the disease. They were eventually able to bring their mother home with her iron lung after they converted their living room into a hospital room for her, but she soon had to return to the hospital and succumbed to the disease in 1957.
He went on to say that at the age of 7, he and his sister, aged 4, were placed in a vaccine trial because of the unknown risk of them passing the disease on to others. They discovered that he did receive the vaccine, but his sister had received a placebo. Shortly after that, his sister began to exhibit symptoms of the disease.
Bishop’s sister developed a much milder case and responded to various therapies over the years, including painting therapy. She earned an art scholarship to Nazareth College and went on to a career as an art teacher.
Bishop talked about seeing images of clinics with rows and rows of thousands of iron lungs and stated those images were not an exaggeration, as he witnessed similar scenes while visiting his mother. As further research and the success of the vaccine helped to reduce the numbers of people diagnosed with polio, the use of the iron lungs has also reduced.
Bishop shared that he recently read that in 1959 there were 1,200 people confined to an iron lung and in 2004 there were only 39 such people. Others in the group commented about knowing children here in our community during the 1950s and 1960s, who had polio and how terrifying it was during the height of the epidemic.
During the Albion Rotary Club’s meeting two sets of Sabres hockey tickets were donated and auctioned off for the purpose of donating the funds raised to the Polio Plus Program. The Gates Foundation has teamed up with Rotary Club International and will do a two-to-one match of any funds raised for the Polio Plus Program. So, thanks to the Gates Foundation, the $120 raised in the auction will be tripled to make a $360 donation to the Polio Plus Program.
In addition to raising awareness and funds for the Polio Plus Program, it is Albion Rotary Club’s practice to present a certificate to their guest speakers indicating a pledge to vaccinate 25 children in countries still reporting new polio cases in the name of the guest speaker. Don Bishop was presented with a certificate for sharing his family’s story at the Thursday meeting.