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It seems like such a distant memory today for those who remember at all polio as an epidemic in America.
It was at its height in 1952 here — there were 58,000 cases that year alone — 3,000 people were killed and 21,000 suffered often debilitating illnesses as polio-atrophied muscles and bones, leaving limbs, and sometimes lungs, useless.
I know the story well because as a 9-month-old baby in 1955, I woke one morning unable to move in my crib, or so my parents told me. I too had polio.
But I was one of the lucky ones. I never had to spend even one day in an iron lung, letting a huge contraption breath for me as so many others had to.
The damage to my body was confined to two limbs — the left arm and right leg. Atrophy in both, years of surgery during summers when I was a kid — tendons transplanted from other parts my body to allow those limbs some movement. And leg braces, which I just hated.
But I was one of the lucky ones, very lucky. The surgeries worked, to a degree. I played lots of stick ball on the city streets of Worcester and baseball in the parks. As a teenager and a young man I climbed all sorts of mountains, many times up the tallest ones in New England and beyond.
Long distance backpacking in the California Sierras, following a wide stream to its trickle source in a permanent snowpack, and then up the unnamed peak behind it.
I pushed myself, probably because I've been beating it back all my life. So it's with great interest I've followed the medical news about polio all these years.
Which makes the current headlines come as a surprise: Polio a public health emergency, again.
The World Health Organization is calling for emergency action to rid the world of polio.
The group is warning that efforts to completely eradicate polio are failing in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Cases in all three countries jumped last year.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, the assistant director general of the WHO, joined WBUR’s Morning Edition to discuss the battle against polio. (Click the listen button atop this post for that.)
This program aired on May 25, 2012.
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