Today is World Polio Day, held each October for the past decade to commemorate Jonas Salk (1914-1995), the founder of the first successful polio vaccine, and to raise awareness of the disease in hopes of its eradication from the planet one day—and it would appear that we’re close. Year-to-date in 2016, there are 27 cases of WPV (wild poliovirus) and 3 cases of cVDPV (vaccine-derived poliovirus) around the world: 3 endemic countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan), 4 outbreak countries (Guinea, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Myanmar), and 15 key at-risk countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine).
It may surprise you to know that several celebrities, authors, and many more notable people survived polio, among them Harry Crews, Arthur C. Clarke, Donald Sutherland, and Mia Farrow. The most famous survivor, perhaps, was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Chapter 2 of Blood, Bone, and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews recounts Crews’ bout with polio in dirt-poor rural Bacon County, Georgia during The Great Depression. Here is an excerpt about Harry's experience with polio from Blood, Bone, and Marrow: chapter-two-pages-18-22.
“I needed something to hold onto, hold me up, because my legs wouldn’t do it. So, I held on to the fence and learned how to walk again by holding onto the fence, staying on it, my hands got bloody and cut-up and shit, but I didn’t care. It didn’t hurt bad. I just did what I had to do, holding onto the fence line…” said Crews.
He went on to tell me that he believed he now had post polio syndrome. That it came on much like polio did when he was a child. I could visibly see the pain he was in when he tried to cross his legs during his explanation. He finally ended his polio story by saying, “My legs are gone. I couldn’t walk from me to you if you had a forty five to my head.”