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Jewish World Review April 23, 2004 / 2 Iyar, 5764

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

On Polio and pulling together | She came home with a high temperature, feeling very ill. The next morning, her legs gave out when she tried to get out of bed. By that evening, she was so weak she could barely move.

It was 1951 when polio struck her. She was 12 years old, just starting the 8th grade. The nation was in a panic then. The ambulance driver wouldn't take her to the hospital for fear other patients might become infected.

Her father told her not to worry. He said she had a new virus and called it "Virus X." Her uncle had a car and he drove her to the hospital. She was placed in a ward with other children with polio. She found this odd. She told the nurse she didn't have polio. She had Virus X — just like her father said.

The nurse nodded, but said there was a possibility it was polio. Now she was really worried — worried about her family. She wrote her parents a letter. She hinted that she may have polio, but that she'd be OK. Her father cried aloud when he read it.

The Health Department quarantined her family. They posted a notice on the front door of her home. For two weeks, the life span of the virus, no one was to visit. Only her father could leave to go to work.

Within two weeks, the polio had ravaged her body. Her arms and legs were in various degrees of paralysis. She could barely lift her head. She was relocated to the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children in Sewickley, PA. Her long, painful rehabilitation would just begin.

It was one year before she could move back home. She wore leg braces and needed crutches to get around. Her school's principal feared for her safety — he recommended she not return. But her father would have none of that. He was determined that she be treated no differently than anyone else, and she returned to school.

She did get help, though. Neighbors who had cars took turns transporting her. The school scheduled her classes so that she had to ascend the stairs only one time a day. Classmates carried her books.

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Her rehab continued two years. She would need crutches the rest of her life, but her braces were finally off. Then one day, sick of depending on others, she decided to walk to school — a journey up a steep Pittsburgh hill more than one mile away. Her mother, worried, went with her that first day. It was a long, painful walk, but she did it.

And in time, she walked to school every day. In time, she was no different than anyone else. Like her sisters, she was beautiful, lively and full of wit. She had many friends. Her senior year, her classmates voted her Queen of Carrick High School for a spring track event. Eventually, she married and had four children (she now has seven grandchildren).

Her name then was Cece Hartner, my mother's sister. I got to thinking about her after reading a USA Today piece on the polio scare of the '40's and '50's. This Monday, April 26 will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the very first polio shot administered as part of a Dr. Jonas Salk's nationwide trial.

Back then, there was an abundance of fear and doubt. But the nation didn't dwell on what was wrong. We did what Americans always do. We focused on the solution. The March of Dimes mobilized millions to raise money. A long line of researchers, including Salk, refused to accept defeat. Together, we won. On April 12, 1955, almost one year after the trial began, Salk's vaccine was declared safe and effective.

It's easy to hold clarity over events that took place 50 years ago, but harder to do so in current times. We are in the midst of many challenges and the nation would appear to be divided. There are many negative voices dwelling on what is wrong. But I know we must pull together and dwell instead on what we can make right.

Just like my Aunt Cece did.

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04/16/04: Misery
04/09/04: Bush's Secret Weapon: Bo Derek
04/02/04: On baseball and politics
03/26/04: Guy talk
03/22/04: Kerry meets his master
03/17/04: When Americans pretend to be 'Irish'
03/12/04: Didya hear the Anti PC Irish Joke about ?
03/05/04: I Wish I Was Russian
02/27/04: Vinny the Number Cruncher takes on Greenspan
02/20/04: The birds and the bees, updated
02/13/04: Dr. Laura plays Cupid
02/06/04: The Investigation
01/23/04: Weighty adjustment
01/16/04: Bucks for betrothals
01/09/04: Decisions, decisions
01/02/04: Making New Year's resolutions for others
12/27/03: Holiday Pork
12/19/03: FOUND! The captured-Saddam transcript
12/12/03: Peace, Man
12/05/03: Who are you, Miss Manners?
12/01/03: Joyless, selfish children
11/21/03: Thanksgiving, updated for our times
11/14/03: Hang in there, tubby America, your day in the sun will come
11/07/03: Morale at Veterans' Day
10/31/03: The Big Picture
10/24/03: A sorry bunch
10/17/03: Conversation with a typical poll respondent?
10/10/03: Men and women and brains
10/03/03: Iraqi Pork
09/26/03: They would not leave
09/19/03: A radical idea
09/12/03: Food Guide Pyramid has a "stupidity factor"?
09/05/03: Flag waving and football cheering
08/29/03: People who have it all, too often don't
08/25/03: Attack of the 'virus twits'
08/08/03: Why not have a whole slew of the world's dignitaries and leaders come by to visit you?
08/01/03: Do you really want to live until 500?
07/18/03: "Ain't-my-fault" lawsuits are becoming more creative
07/18/03: The real story never makes for good summertime drama in Washington
07/11/03: Government bureaucrats, not elected officials, are really the ones determining what people and organizations can and can't do
07/03/03: Overworked Americans
06/27/03: The Metrosexual Male
06/20/03: Crime Etiquette in Washington, D.C.
06/13/03: My Father, the Thief and the MGB
06/05/03: An Open Letter to Bill and Hillary
05/30/03: We are a busy people
05/23/03: Liar, Liar
05/16/03: Laffer all the way to the bank
05/09/03: My mother's house
05/02/03: Teaching the Iraqis how to protest
04/25/03: Iraqi TV
04/21/03: Explaining Democracy to the Iraqis
04/11/03: Major increases to the beer tax? That's a cheap shot right to the beer gut
04/04/03: War humor
03/31/03: Dolphins, PETA and the USA
03/21/03: Traffic Wars
03/14/03: Ronald Reagan's St. Patrick's Day
03/03/03: My Family's Tragic Secret: We're French
02/21/03: I'm worried about my people
02/14/03: George Washington Makeover
02/07/03: Making quiet sacrifices
01/24/03: "Gimme the, goo-goo, gah-gah, remote!"
01/21/03: "Misunderestimated"
01/10/03: Republican night life
01/06/03: Exercise pills
12/31/02: They provide unending joy to those who are wise enough to let them in
12/13/02: Hurried Man Syndrome
12/06/02: In DC, snowstorms have important ramifications --- or, at least, they should
11/26/02: Police advertising
11/15/02: An Interview with Osama
11/01/02: How to vote in America
10/25/02: On edge in Washington, D.C
10/11/02: Giving new meaning to "selling your body"
10/04/02: Bush's Angels
09/27/02: Conservatives, Liberals, Dick Armey and Barry Manilow
09/20/02: Are SUV drivers are the new GOPers?
09/13/02: Bubba is Dubya's man
09/06/02: The Freedom to Picnic
08/16/02: Ah, the $izzle of anti-terrorist pork
08/09/02: Vacationless prez and gutless Americans
07/26/02: Study gives women permission not to hide their emotions
07/15/02: Patriot food
06/28/02: Eavesdropping on a San Fran classroom
06/21/02: The crowded skies
06/14/02: Contemporary Father's Day: A conversation for the ages
06/07/02: Legal rights for animals?
05/19/02: Advice for prom goers this year: Hold onto your money
05/10/02: Don't take her for granted
05/03/02: Letter to the parents of a tubby teen
04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2003, Tom Purcell