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The pandemic prompts polio survivors to share their stories of vaccines, quarantines and iron lungs

CINCINNATI – The COVID-19 pandemic and the spread of vaccines that will prevent it have surfaced ghostly memories of Americans who survived an earlier time when the country was engulfed in a virus that for so long seemed to have no cure or way to prevent it.

They were children then. They had friends or classmates who came to rely on wheelchairs or dragged their legs with braces. Some went to hospitals to use the iron lungs they needed to breathe. Some never returned.

Now they are adults. Again, they fall into one of the most severely affected age groups, just as they were as children in the polio era. They share their memories with today̵

7;s younger people as a lesson in hope of leaving COVID-19.

Clyde Winness, a retired professor at the University of Vermont who participates in a mentoring program, recently told 13-year-old Ferris Giroud the story of polio during their weekly call to Zoom. Families and schools have saved coins to contribute to the Dimes March to fund polio efforts, he recalled, and the nation has noted successful vaccine tests.

“As soon as the vaccine came out, everyone jumped on it and got it right away,” said Winness, 84, a native of Harlan, Iowa. “Everyone went up, and it was actually eradicated in the United States.”

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, before vaccines became available, polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year, with deaths in the United States reaching a maximum of 3,145 in 1952. Epidemics lead to quarantines and travel restrictions. Soon after vaccines became widely available, cases in the United States and deaths dropped to hundreds a year, and then to dozens in the 1960s. In 1979, polio was eradicated in the United States.

“So really, what I want people to be reassured about is that many times in history, things haven’t turned out the way we expected them to,” said Ioannico Kochi, director of the Adelphi Parenting University Institute. “We adapt and our children will have skills and strengths and resilience that we did not have.”

While today’s children have learned to stay home and attend school remotely, wear masks when walking everywhere and often use hand sanitizer, many of their grandparents remember their childhood summers dominated by concerns about the air virus, which is also spreading. through the stool. Some parents forbade their children from visiting public swimming pools and neighborhood playgrounds and avoided large gatherings.

“Polio was something my parents were very afraid of,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, now 74. “My father was a big fan of baseball, but he was very careful not to put me in big crowds … My father’s friend thought that his son had caught him playing cardinals. “

A recent photo appeared in a 1955 newspaper showing DeWine becoming one of the first sophomores in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to receive vaccinations. His future wife, Fran Struewing, was a classmate who also received hers that day. Sixty-six years later, they took the COVID-19 vaccination photos together.

DeWine, a Republican, has criticized the state and his own party for their aggressive response to the COVID-19 outbreak. But he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who overcame a childhood case of polio, and others at the time remember the importance of developing vaccines and widespread inoculations.

Martha Wilson, now an 88-year-old student and nurse at Indiana University in the early 1950s, remembers the relief across the country when a polio vaccine was developed years later. She believes that some people today do not appreciate “how quickly they have been vaccinated against COVID.”

Kochi had a different experience than most children in the 1950s. Her mother, who believes in natural medicine as an herbal medicine, did not vaccinate her (Kochi was vaccinated as an adult). While her mother was older then, she would fit into today’s skeptics about vaccines.

DeWine believes that a key contrast between the 1960s and today, with the reluctance of so many Americans to be vaccinated, is that polio has been affected by children and has become the worst nightmare for many parents.

“I know our parents were relieved when we finally tried,” Fran DeWine recalls.

Her husband recently initiated a series of $ 1 million lotteries to pump up COVID-19’s slow involvement in vaccination among Ohio residents. Last week, President Joe Biden announced a “month of action” with incentives such as free beer and sports tickets to drive vaccinations in the United States.

Wigness blames today’s division policy and the anti-scientific messages spread on talk shows and social media. Ferris, a teenager who is a mentor, says he sees criticism of wearing masks and other precautions among some of his peers. Ferris says that success in eradicating polio certainly “means that it is possible to defeat COVID, but it depends entirely on the people.”

Martha Wilson, who now lives in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, spoke about polio and COVID-19 during a recent Zoom interview with her granddaughter Hannah Wilson, 28, from the New York suburbs. She considered treating patients with iron lungs, a type of ventilator used to treat polio.

“They were very restrictive. … It wasn’t a very pleasant life, “says Wilson.

“I remember a book I read when I was a kid, ‘Little Steps: The Year I Had Polio,’ by Peg Carrett. And I have left, “says Hannah. “And I remember the iron lungs and things like that. But when I asked people about it – “Hey, do you remember what polio was?” – no one knew. “

Hannah, administrator of the Big East Athletics Conference, was in Iran in December 2019 when she heard the first reports of a new virus in China. She was visiting her grandfather, Abulfat Rohani, who would die there a few months later at the age of 97.

At home, her work is rapidly transforming. Games, then tournaments, then whole seasons were canceled.

“He was opening his eyes,” she says. “So many people denied it was real, they had never seen anything like it.”

Both she and her grandmother point out that the nation survived not only polio but also a deadly flu pandemic in 1918, which remains higher than COVID-19 in both the United States and the world.

“I hope we get out of this and it’s just another chapter in history,” says Hannah Wilson.

Martha Wilson says her mother-in-law survived the flu pandemic in 1918 and lived a long life.

“So it was one generation, polio was another generation, COVID another,” she says. “I think it happened so far away that we had forgotten that these things were happening. I think COVID surprised us.

“And now Hannah and her generation may be more aware when something else comes along.”

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