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In this touching personal story, Larry Cuban tells the story of polio–also known as infantile paralysis–which was a scourge for decades. Many children died of the dread disease, and some were left paralyzed or partially paralyzed. Even adults were afflicted. Larry came down with polio and still has memories of his hospitalization and the treatments his parents administered to bring him back to health. He loathed the two raw eggs that he was required to drink every morning to aid in his recovery but remembers his mother rubbing his legs with cocoa butter to ease the pain.
In the U.S. it occurred periodically paralyzing children and adults, rich and poor alike. One epidemic in 1916 claimed 27,000 Americans. In New York alone there were 8400 cases and 2400 deaths. Five years later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came down with the disease at the age of 39 and wore leg braces for the rest of his life including the years he served as President of the U.S. (1933-1945). Not until the early 1950s did a vaccine become available for children.**
I wrote a post recently about Jonas Salk, who discovered the vaccine for polio in 1954. What a relief that was! I was in tenth grade then and remember how the specter of polio hung over my youthful years. I remember all the warnings about avoiding public spaces, taking extra care not to have any contact with anyone who might be infected, taking care not to touch any surface that might harbor the germ. Unlike Larry, I was lucky enough to have avoided that terrible disease.