PART 5: Warm Spring Polios Exhibit an Attitude of Determination to Walk Once More

November 1, 2012 

Jan. 27, 1956

(Editor's note: This is the fifth and concluding article in the personal account of a reporter for the Columbus Ledger who was struck down by polio. It was written at the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, where he is undergoing therapy.)

There is a lot of history about this place and sometimes when the wind hums through the tall pines about the Foundation grounds you think about it while falling asleep. But there are other things to think of and the days are busy and the serenade in the pine trees is a soporific you hardly need.

The Georgia Warm Springs Foundation was incorporated in 1927 and predates the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis by 11 years. The soothing warm waters were made more widely known by the visits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt starting back in the 1920s.

Not too far away on the ridge known as Pine Mountain and the jutting rock known as Dowdell's Knob, Mr. Roosevelt used to sit and look out over the Pine Mountain Valley. He died here, at the Little White House close by which draws 100,000 visitors yearly. I never was old enough to vote for him, but he was one of us - a polio.

Yes, we are polios here - 167 of us, two above the normal capacity. But there's no sadness. At least you don't see it. If there's a noticeable attitude, it's determination. And the atmosphere is not like that of a hospital. At first you are surprised at it, but soon you accept laughter and good natured greetings and friendliness as normal.

Shortly after I arrived I heard a cowboy-suited youngster in a wheelchair calling out to another: "I'll race you down the hall." All cannot look forward to an early return to usefulness or to home, but they are sure that their condition is improving and that all possible is being done. I'd say we all are cheerful.

At first, I had a roommate, and he settled my curiosity as to who sells the advertisements in the yellow pages of the telephone book. He is one of them. I hated to be put in a private room after the first week; I miss his conversation - and also the electric razor and the TV set he shared with me.

At 31, he was struck down. He is Mel Oft of Kalamazoo, and formerly was a missionary to Hawaii, a Seventh Day Adventist. But he isn't the oldest patient, by many years. That distinction goes to Dr. Maurice Hauser of Detroit who is 45.

The youngest, by the way, is Judy Ann Reliford, 11 months old, of Willacoochee, Ga. Here the longest is Jimmy Keister, 3, of Birmingham. He has been here since May of 1955.

They don't keep you here too long. The average is 85-90 days, so there will be many new faces during my stay, and I will be out and gone in maybe two and a half months. That's what I hope.

They fitted me today for a corset. Mary will get a chuckle out of this when she visits. By the way, there are no facilities at the Foundation for relatives, but they may visit from 2:30 to 5 p.m. and 7:30 to 9 p.m. on week days, and additionally from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Sundays and holidays. That's for adults. Visiting hours for youngsters are 4 to 5 p.m. week days and the additional morning hours on Sundays and holidays. Some relatives of patients get jobs at the Foundation to be near.

This corset is to support my back. I am to sit up for six hours daily. Today I went into the warm pool for the first time, and this probably will be a daily thing. I hope you don't come here, but if you do, don't stock up on pajamas ahead of time. The uniform-of-the-day is the bathing suit, plus slack and sport shirts.

This place is well staffed. An orderly came to sweep my room for the second time in a single day. I asked him why. He said: "It's my job to keep this room clean, and I'm going to keep it clean."

The staff totals about 400, but only about 230 are medical - nurses, nurses aids, orderlies, therapists, doctors. The grounds must be kept, and there is a fire department, a water and sewage system and other facilities to be maintained. Also there are teachers - the youngsters are given individual instruction between therapy.

And it cost about $1,700,000 yearly to run the institution.

About 65 percent of the patient cost is borne by the chapters of the National Foundation. In some cases, they pay all; in some cases, only a part, all depending on circumstances. My insurance is covering my cost, but should it be used up, I would contact my local chapter and it would take care of me up to whatever amount necessary. It is comforting to know this.

They've fitted me for braces and crutches, and that means that pretty soon I am going to walk again. I know I am. I haven't mentioned it before, but Mary and I are deeply and sincerely religious. This has sustained me. It has sustained her, too. Without this source of strength, what in the world would have happened to us? We've got another youngster coming in May.

The Salk vaccine is a wonderful advancement. But there are a lot os us polios who still need therapy and the inspiring atmosphere of this Foundation, and the care exercised and the hope given by the staff here. There are a lot of us who will need braces for a long while. And even with the vaccine, there will be other polios.

I didn't mean to sermonize. And I didn't mean when I started this account to propagandize. It's just that some truths have become clearer. I don't mean to be sacriligious in coupling the two, and certainly not facetious or insincere, but if I can advise you, do this: Worship your God with all you heart and support the March of Dimes with all your available resources.

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