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9 Famous People You Never Knew Survived Polio

iron lungI wasn’t sure exactly who she was, really. Some relative. Maybe a great aunt.

I was a kid and the people important to my world didn’t extend far beyond my parents and grandparents. Still, my grandmother would take me along to visit her.

I remember not liking the place at all. It was austere. I was uncomfortable, twitchy and waiting to get out of there. We’d go into her room, where she lay in what looked to me like a beached submarine, or a giant oil drum. She was completely inside of it, as I recall, except for her head sticking out, and there was a mirror above her head, presumably so she would be able to see what was around her.

Whenever we went to visit, she was inside that drum. She lived inside it. Her entire life consisted of whatever she could see in her 180-degree view from that drum. I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to be inside that thing, and how you could have a life of any sort if you were stuck in an iron lung day in and day out, no thanks to polio.

Before the vaccine, epidemics of polio were common in the US. According to Wikipedia, “Rows of iron lungs filled hospital wards at the height of the polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 1950s.” Imagine all the children whose lives hung in the balance inside of them, with their mothers keeping vigil.

I feel fortunate that we live in a time when we’re not even sure exactly what polio is. In case you don’t know, poliomyelitis is a viral disease that can affect the central nervous system and lead to partial or full paralysis and death. It is spread by human contact, and there is no cure.

Thanks to the polio vaccine, the world is close to eradicating polio entirely. There are only three countries in which polio is still endemic: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are several organizations dedicated to ridding the globe of this disease, as has been done successfully with smallpox, including Rotary International and UNICEF. Today, on World Polio Day, they’d like your help. Here are some of the things you might do to save a child’s life from polio:

  • Add your photo to become part of the world’s largest commercial to end polio.
  • Donate a tweet or FB wall post to spread the word about eradicating polio – just click “share your voice” at the top of the End Polio home page.
  • Dennis Ogbe, a US Paralympian, native Nigerian and polio survivor, urges you to donate money that will be used to vaccinate children and prevent the crippling effects of polio over at Shot At Life.

Meantime, here are nine famous people you probably never knew were survivors of childhood polio, according to Wikipedia:

nggallery template=’carousel’ id=’4′

  • Donald Sutherland 1 of 9
    Donald Sutherland
    Sutherland says he developed his love of reading while bedridden with polio.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • Katherine Jackson 2 of 9
    Katherine Jackson
    The mother of the late Michael Jackson got polio as a baby and still walks with a limp.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • Alan Alda 3 of 9
    Alan Alda
    Alda contracted polio in the 1940s during an epidemic. He was just seven years old.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • David Sanborn 4 of 9
    David Sanborn
    The famous saxophonist contracted polio when he was three, and spent one year in an iron lung, followed by two years in bed.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • Emmett Till 5 of 9
    Emmett Till
    Till, whose murder in Mississippi helped spark the civil rights movement, had polio when he was five. His lasting symptom of the disease was a stutter.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • Itzhak Perlman 6 of 9
    Itzhak Perlman
    Perlman contracted polio at the age of four. He uses braces and crutches to walk.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • Margarete Steiff 7 of 9
    Margarete Steiff
    The founder of the Steiff Company, famous for its teddy bears, Steiff contracted polio at 18 months, lost the use of her legs and had only partial use of her right arm.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • Frida Kahlo 8 of 9
    Frida Kahlo
    The artist had polio at age six, which left her with a deformed and shortened right leg.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia
  • Francis Ford Coppola 9 of 9
    Francis Ford Coppola
    The director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now was confined to his bed for more than a year with polio.
    Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

writes here at Babble as well as at her own blog on postpartum depression, called Postpartum Progress. You can also follow her on Twitter as she tweets inane things about her day.

 

 

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