Remembering Jonas Salk on the anniversary of his birthday

By Kurt Sipolski, freelance writer, polio survivor, and resident of Palm Desert, California, USA 

Years ago, I founded and published a magazine for homeowners and designers, San Francisco Gentry magazine. 

It was easy to target advertisers. While homeowners don’t necessarily eat out more than renters, they sure as heck hire builders and landscapers more often.

One time, I called a fire contractor to sell him an ad. I had used him when an apartment in a building I owned caught fire. After refreshing his memory of who I was, he replied, “Oh, I  remember. You’re the cripple.” 

I was so astonished, that all I could think of to say was, “Technically, I suppose, because I had polio, you are correct. But I don’t like your connotation of that word, and I won’t call again.”

It did and does remind me of how far we have come in the United States in terms of viewing the disabled. Today marks the birthday of Jonas Salk (1914-1995), who developed the first vaccine against polio. It made me think of the strides we have taken since that period.

Salk’s vaccine was cleared for general use in 1955, and was eventually followed by Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine. The disease then and now has helped unite many behind a single cause, kill this virus that is targeting our kids.

The March of Dimes was founded by a ton of dimes landing on desks in Washington D.C., and helped not only to end the disease in the United States, but to benefit the families of polio survivors.  My mother, a widow, very gratefully used it for all my therapy and operations and later became president of our local chapter in Illinois.

Unfortunately, many polio survivors who lived successful and productive lives now suffer from post-polio syndrome, which mimics all the discomfort and weakness suffered when the disease first struck. The neurons are shot after decades of use and overuse. I know it is terribly discouraging.

Thank God, there are only a few cases of polio left in the world. And with the help of Rotary, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the other partner organizations in theGlobal Polio Eradication Initiative, we are closing in on finally exterminating this virus. Even facing death in some countries, polio eradication volunteers are out their bravely getting the job done.

Actresses like Archie Panjabi and Mia Farrow and Ksenia Solo have lent their names and donated their time to the cause. Ms. Solo has optioned the rights to adapt my book to the screen. The film will highlight the unspoken courage of a million mothers who suffered just as much as their kids, only in their souls.

 It is one thing to help a cause when someone immediate to you is affected, but entirely magnanimous to help others purely because no one else is helping them.

Cases of acute flaccid paralysis are being investigated in war-torn Syria, and the polio virus has been found recently in sewage in Jerusalem. It is as important as ever to maintain vigilance against this disease until it is finally eradicated.

Good people are doing good things in the fight against polio, and deserve our support. Noblesse Oblige.