Today, October 28, is the 100th birthday of Dr. Jonas Salk, whose 1955 polio vaccine eventually eradicated this crippling disease in the United States. Google is saying thank you to Dr. Salk today through their search engine doodle. Between 13,000 and 20,000 polio cases occurred annually before the vaccine. Within 10 years of Salk’s vaccine, that number dropped to 61 cases a year.
My mother, Judy Travis Hampton, was a polio survivor. She is pictured here with my grandmother, Kathryn Travis. They attended a 1950s era Little Rock basketball game, where fans donated money for polio research.
As a preschooler, Judy woke up one morning and couldn’t move her arm. Alarmed, her mother Kathryn called their physician.
Fearing the contagious nature of polio, the doctor told Kathryn to bring Judy through the back door of his office to avoid other patients. He then confirmed that Judy had polio.
Enduring bed confinement and quarantine, she eventually resumed normal activities while also attending physical therapy sessions at the local pool. Though she couldn’t lift her right arm above elbow-level, she went on to live a normal, productive life and became a teacher, wife, mother, and avid quilter. She was lucky. Some polio survivors, such as President Franklin Roosevelt, were unable to walk.
In May 2014, Judy died of Parkinson’s, a debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system, the same system that polio targeted. Her Parkinson’s case was likely worse and more aggressive because of the damage left by polio.
Earlier this month, Ann Romney, the wife of former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, announced the Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. This work is important. America needs another “Jonas Salk” to find more effective treatments and cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Multiple Sclerosis, and brain cancer.