Thursday, April 12, 2012

Polio and a President

On the anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt's sudden death on April 12, 1945, I wanted to talk a little about a scourge of my early childhood that, hopefully, will never reappear in our lifetimes.

I visited Warm Springs, Georgia in March of 2010 and saw the Little White House where Roosevelt died, the unfinished portrait that still sits in the house, and the pools where Roosevelt had found relief from his polio.  Yes, Roosevelt was a disabled man in a time were disabled people were disrespected and discriminated against - so much so that Roosevelt had to hide the fact that he depended on a wheelchair for mobility.

Otherwise, people might have thought he was unfit for office.

That would be totally inconceivable today - but those were very different times.  Still, Franklin Roosevelt had a large role in making disability acceptable, and gave hope to a lot of people with polio.  Ever hear of the March of Dimes?  It started as a movement to find a cure for polio

At the time of his death, polio was a feared scourge.  I can vaguely remember the panic that was felt during the summer - the peak time for polio. Parents would even keep their children away from public swimming pools, as it was believed that pools were one place you could "catch" polio.  As children, we believed that being near a storm drain could give you polio.

But then everything changed.

A charity called The March of Dimes was founded by Franklin Roosevelt in 1938..  Roosevelt had a simple idea- asking Americans to send in a dime, just one dime, to fight polio.  The "march"of dimes helped to finance research, so that the Salk and Sabin vaccines could be developed.   In honor of Roosevelt's fund raising, his face appears on the dime and has for many years.

Ironically, Roosevelt's polio may have been misdiagnosed - but many people alive today can be grateful for that misdiagnosis.

 I was one of those young children in those old black and white photos lining up in schools for their polio shot.

I was a member of the first generation in human history that did not have to fear polio.   And to my son, polio is just a historical curiosity - although one of his older cousins married a woman who had polio as a child, and has a noticeable limp to show for it.

Today, we are fighting a different epidemic, one that won't be helped by a March of Dimes.  The epidemic is autism, and I will blog about it again in the near future.  My brother in law, who is in his 50's, has autism.  But that is a discussion for another time.

I realized, in researching my blog, that I had never published my photos of Warm Springs, and I hope to fix that in the near future.  And yes, there is still a Roosevelt Institute for Rehabilitation in Warm Springs.

If you need a story on how one person can change history, and enrich the lives of millions, you need look no further than this story.

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