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Community & Clubs: Celebrating researchers while remembering polio's victims

December 30, 2013|By Jim de Boom

As I get older, the more sentimental I get.

Sing the national anthem at an Angels game, and I will have tears in my eyes. Marching bands, whether high school, college or the Salvation Army band, bring tears to my eyes. And so did the 2014 Rotary Rose Parade Float titled "Engage Rotary/Change Lives," which showcased Rotary's commitment to eradicating polio worldwide.

Two of the riders on Rotary's float represented the giants in defeating this disease: Peter L. Salk, the oldest son of Jonas Salk, who, together with his team at the University of Pittsburgh, developed the first successful polio vaccine. Deborah Sabin is the oldest daughter of Albert Sabin, developer of the oral polio vaccine.

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Many will remember the horrifying panic during the years leading up to the discovery of the polio vaccines in the mid-1950s. Those in the United States made a collective sigh of relief when these vaccines became widely available — they knew that their children would no longer face this crippling and debilitating disease.

Since 1985, Rotary and its partners have helped reduce the number of annual cases of polio caused by wild polio viruses to fewer than 250, and they remain committed to ensuring that every child is safe from the disease. Rotarians have contributed more than $1 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect more than 2 billion children in 122 countries. In addition, Rotary's advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by donor governments to contribute more than $9 billion to the effort and allow Rotary volunteers to administer the vaccine in Third World countries.

Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin were long known as scientific rivals. Now, their adult children have come together to honor their fathers' work, which dramatically changed lives in the United States and across the globe by protecting against a disease that once killed or crippled 600,000 children and adults a year, including my father and brother, LeRoy.

My dad had polio as a kid on a farm in southern Minnesota. He wore a brace on a malformed leg and walked with a heavy limp. Mom got polio fever in 1955 and didn't get out of bed for a couple of months. She was just weak and sleepy. She was never paralyzed from it, though.

In 1955, I took the polio shot and ended up in bed for a couple of weeks. I had a reaction to the shot and haven't had the vaccine since.

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