Journalist wrote of polio struggle

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 27, 2012 

People like to think of the years immediately after World War II as an idyllic time. The war was over, the economy was booming, the suburbs were sprawling.

And polio was spreading, casting a pall over the era as it struck down thousands of people, many in the prime of life.

Beginning in the years after the war, the rate of polio cases in the United States grew from about 20,000 a year to a high of 58,000 in 1952, according to "Polio's Legacy," by Edmund J. Sass.

It created what some historians have called "polio hysteria." People were afraid of public drinking fountains, swimming pools and such, because no one knew how the virus was spread, and there was no cure, nor vaccine.

Starting in 1948, Dr. Jonas Salk began his famous research into a vaccine. Soon, others were competing to develop the first way to prevent infection.

In 1954, field trials of Salk's vaccine were being held, many of them in mental hospitals, sad to say. The trials were effective, so the next year, an aggressive national vaccination campaign was begun.

In 1962, Dr. Albert Sabin's oral vaccine replaced Salk's as the preferred method because it was easier to administer and deemed more effective. In 1964, just 12 years after the record-setting 58,000 cases were reported, only 121 cases were seen in the U.S.

Today, the Western Hemisphere is considered polio-free. The virus is still found, but primarily in Third World countries.

The virus was defeated in this and many other countries, but its effects continue to linger, as many who survived the illness continue to suffer from varying degrees of paralysis and some from post-polio syndrome. The syndrome is a cruel visitor that brings back some of the original symptoms of polio, absent the actual virus.

One such victim, my friend and former colleague Carroll Lisby, died last week from surgical complications from polio and post-polio syndrome.

In 1955, early in his 36-year career with the Ledger-Enquirer, Lisby was a 24-year-old father of two, with another on the way, when he was stricken with polio. It would leave him partially paralyzed, but neither broken nor silenced.

From his bed first at old City Hospital and then at the Warm Springs Foundation, Lisby wrote a five-part series called "I Was Struck Down by Polio." It was syndicated in over 100 newspapers in several countries and won numerous awards.

Beginning today and continuing through Thursday, we will publish one installment a day of the series at ledger-enquirer.com. We hope our readers will be as impressed by the then-young man's courage as we were when we came across the series in our files.

In today's opening installment, Lisby wrote:

"You walk along and walk along from toddling days and you never see that fine wire you tread until you fall off it."

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