(from the Spring 2015 Macomb Now Magazine)
A modern medical miracle turns 60.
By Denis LeDuc
With increasingly infectious outbreaks in the first half of the 20th century, the polio virus struck terror into the hearts of citizens everywhere including our local communities. Attacking the central nervous system, the disease caused muscle wasting paralysis even death. Confined to a wheelchair President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself was a victim of polio.
Around here, summer particularly meant polio season. Terrified parents kept their children indoors for fear of contracting the disease. Public beaches and swimming pools were avoided. Theaters and bowling alleys sometimes lay nearly deserted. The fear of contaminated water or food was wide spread.
In our March 1951 Daily Monitor Leader photo above, the Easter Bunny brings candy to young polio victims being treated at Sigma Gamma Hospital in Harrison Township. Particularly notice the children’s braces and wheelchairs, their high lace Buster Brown leather shoes and the fragility of their legs. There are smiles on many of the children’s faces. But also look into the thin, haunting face of the girl at center right. Notice the Easter Bunny’s bow tie, Raggedy Ann on the wall and the small, seated doll on the shelf.
On April 12 1955, 60 years ago, the Salk vaccine, developed to prevent polio, was first announced at the University of Michigan to be safe and effective. With a tremendous public health effort, children were inoculated first.
I remember standing in a very long, winding line with my mother at the old Quonset huts waiting for service by the Health Department. I was afraid of the shot, but also afraid of the disease. Then we approached the head of the line, it was suddenly over, and we went for ice cream at Sanders. Today, the rate of new cases has dropped rapidly, to the point where we hardly hear of polio.
Photo courtesy of the Macomb Daily archives.