John Carson contracted polio during the epidemic in Indiana during the summer of 1940 when he was just 15 months old.
"After many doctor consultations, they finally decided that I had polio," said Carson. "My grandparents moved in with our family to help care for me, and my grandfather faithfully gave me the Sister Kenny treatments. I was one of the lucky ones, eventually regaining use of my legs, but with much effort. Many others were not so fortunate and did end up in iron lungs."
Thankfully today, parents and children in Greencastle no longer have to live in fear of the polio virus. But that is not the case in all parts of the world.
Polio (also called poliomyelitis) has plagued humans since ancient times, but its most extensive outbreak occurred in the first half of the 1900s before the vaccination, created by Jonas Salk, became widely available in 1955.
At the height of the polio epidemic in 1952, nearly 60,000 cases with more than 3,000 deaths were reported in the United States alone. With widespread vaccination, polio occurring through natural infection, was eliminated from the United States by 1979 and from the Western hemisphere by 1991.
In 1985, Rotary, a volunteer service organization of 1.2 million men and women, made a commitment to immunize the world's children against polio and became a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative three years later. The other partners are the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.
The US $555 million funding agreement between Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation marked another milestone in Rotary's legacy of polio eradication work.
Thanks to Rotary and its partners, the number of polio cases has been slashed worldwide by more than 99 percent, preventing 5,000,000 instances of childhood paralysis and 250,000 deaths. But the polio cases represented by that final 1 percent will be the most difficult and expensive to prevent for a variety of reasons, including geographical isolation, worker fatigue, armed conflict and cultural barriers.
Shannon Norman, Rotary International Foundation chair for the Rotary Club of Greencastle, is responsible for raising awareness and obtaining donations for this international effort.
"By joining with Rotary clubs all over the world, we are making a difference," said Norman.
Rotary International is an organization of 32,000 service clubs located all over the world. It is a secular organization open to all persons regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or political preference. The stated purpose of the organization is to bring together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.
Members usually meet weekly for breakfast, lunch or dinner, which is a social event as well as an opportunity to organize work on their service goals. Rotary's best-known motto is "Service above Self," and its secondary motto is "They profit most who serve best."
To learn about the Rotary Club of Greencastle, contact membership chair Anne Clark at 653-5226. To help eradicate polio in the world, make your tax-deductible check payable to Rotary International with Polio Plus in the memo, and mail to Rotary Club of Greencastle, P.O. Box 83, Greencastle, IN 46135.