I Never Had a Choice: My Lifelong Struggle With Polio
In 1921 on Campobello Island, Franklin D. Roosevelt began his legacy, not as the 32nd president of the United States nor as the man who would lead the Allied nations to victory over Nazi Germany, but as the most famous survivor of polio.
While on vacation at his family’s home in New Brunswick, Canada, FDR’s legs became progressively weaker, and by the third day, they could no longer support his weight. After several misdiagnoses, he eventually discovered he had contracted infantile paralysis, i.e., polio. As the name suggests, the disease typically presents during infancy, and most children develop immunity before they turn 5; however, for those who are afflicted, polio can cause lifelong paralysis or death.
Long before COVID-19, polio was the most feared disease in the world. In 1952 alone, before a polio vaccine was available, almost 60,000 American children were infected, thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 perished. Three years later, the United States began widespread inoculation for polio, and by 1979, it had been eradicated across the country.
Since then, the vaccine has been so effective, some have begun to question its necessity. Few people today know someone personally who has been stricken with this horrific disease. No longer is polio what took the life of a loved one or left a neighbor unable to walk. Polio is now a theoretical concept, and the hundreds of thousands of lives taken or disabled have been distilled to “why FDR was in a wheelchair.”
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