Victories over Polio – Before the “Iron Lung” and the “Sauk Vaccine”
My friend was discussing the book, “Three Days on the Brink” with an acquaintance over a cup of coffee at Panera. The book was about the secret meeting of Churchill, FDR, and Stalin in Tehran, Iran planning “D-Day” – The invasion of Europe during WWII. Some of the book was dedicated to the battle that FDR waged against Polio (a devasting, crippling disease then, but foreign to many today, because of its eradication by the Sauk Vaccine in the mid 50’s.)
FDR was born to wealthy, aristocratic parents in New York. He was raised among the highest circles of Society. Educated in the finest schools. Privy to unlimited opportunities for the rest of his life. FDR chose politics to be his vocation. However, he became Governor of New York because of his relentless personal appearances throughout the state, not because of his privilege. The lesson of perseverance would serve him well battling Polio.
Out of the blue, at age 39, in the prime of his life, the devasting effects of Polio struck FDR down. All of his family status, money, and accomplishments could not help FDR stand & walk. Like every other Polio victim, he was confined to his bed, with his legs shackled in steel constraints, never to stand & walk again. Nor enjoy any of the fruits of those ordinary functions, common to everyone. The dream of the Presidency burst like a bubble. Except.
Except, FDR refused to accept his fate laying down. He attempted to walk in a swimming pool, with water supplying the buoyancy his legs lacked. He immersed himself in therapeutic “Hot Springs” water, laced with medicine. He would lift his body by his arms, between 2 parallel wooden rails, and swing one leg forward and then, the next. None of those efforts resulted in any change in his condition. But it toughened his resolve to never give up, regardless of insurmountable challenges. (A valuable lesson learned for the rest of his life.)
FDR resumed his political career by sheer will. He continued to make relentless, personal appearances throughout the State of New York, and was re-elected Governor. When President Hoover chose a status-quo path to solve the problems of the Great Depression, FDR challenged him with a bold, “New Deal”, and won. And won re-election 3-more times. It was his relentless will and confident optimism for a better life that uplifted citizens to vote for him.
As my friend and acquaintance were discussing FDR’s battle with Polio, the stranger at the next table stood up and walked over. Obviously, he couldn’t help but overhear my friend’s conversation, when he said,
“I also had Polio. But I was stricken at the age of 4, a year before the “Iron Lung” was invented and a decade before the “Sauk Vaccine”. My parents were poor. So, I was sent away to a Sanitarium while I was contagious.
There, I was condemned to a bed, legs shackled in irons, denied physical therapy, because there was no hope for a cure of childhood Polio. A child stricken with Polio was doomed to a life of pain and despair. After the contagious period was over, I was sent back home. Except, I refused to believe that my normal life was over.
I intuitively began a regimen of physical therapy on my own. When I pursued my own physical therapy against all odds, I noticed small improvements in my legs. I was encouraged by continuous progress, until one day, I could stand. Then, I struggled to put one leg in front of the other. In a few years, I could walk and attended school with my friends. When I graduated from college, I became a Social Worker,
I wanted to help as many people as I could to overcome their life-challenges, through perseverance and Faith in God. My Supervisors assigned me the most difficult cases, involving the severest difficulties.. Some successfully overcame their problems. Others did not. Those that did, were confident in their will to succeed and their faith in God. Those were the same qualities that allowed me to overcome my incurable, childhood Polio.”
With that being said, the stranger turned and walked away without a limp or cane.
My friend was in awe of this man’s story. Like FDR, he was testimony to the power of the human spirit, perseverance, and Faith. The stranger transferred his life-changing convictions on a one-on-one basis to others – to lift them out of their hopelessness. FDR’s relentless optimism provided hope to a nation during the Great Depression and guidance during WWII. Both men’s lives proved that challenges are overcome by perseverance of will and confidence in a Power Higher than themselves. And that neither privilege nor poverty are a help or a hindrance.
God values both those men’s effort to benefit others, just the same. The magnitude of outcome is irrelevant. You don’t need to be Mother Theresa to be valued by God. “You are a “Success” if even one life breathes easier because you lived.” – Emerson
Upon reflection, my friend vowed to incorporate those values into his life.