In 1894, doctors in Vermont noticed a strange illness spreading throughout the state. Symptoms included fever, sore throat, aches, and difficulty breathing. In some instances, the disease caused paralysis or even death. The virus attacked the nervous system and seemed to hit small children especially hard. The outbreak resulted in 18 deaths and 132 cases of permanent paralysis in Vermont that year. After careful study, doctors finally identified the culprit as poliomyelitis – or polio. Polio ravaged the country and terrified Americans for more than fifty years until a 1955 vaccine promised an 80-90% success rate in preventing the disease. However, within two weeks of being inoculated with the new vaccine, six children developed paralysis and the vaccine was found defective. This incident, known as the Cutter incident, led to changes including increased government oversight in the manufacture and regulation of vaccines.

The 1894 polio outbreak shined a spotlight on polio, which was often referred to as infantile paralysis, and sparked scientists to search for a cure. In 1916, a large polio epidemic hit New York City infecting more than 9,000, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths. Perhaps the most public figure diagnosed with polio was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He contracted the disease in 1921 at the time when nearly 15,000 new cases were diagnosed each year.

Advances in polio treatment led scientists to develop the iron lung in 1928. Some patients lost the ability to breathe on their own when polio paralyzed their chest muscles. The iron lung acted as a respirator using air pressure to expand and contract a patient’s diaphragm, essentially breathing for them at the rate of 16 times a minute. In 2008, America’s longest-living survivor in an iron lung passed away after a power outage shut down her iron lung and a backup generator failed.

In the 1930s, early efforts to create a polio vaccine were unsuccessful. By the 1950s, Dr. Jonas Salk experienced a breakthrough and successfully developed a vaccine using an inactivated strain of the poliovirus (IPV). His vaccine was based on three virulent strains of the virus that were inactivated using a formaldehyde solution. Salk was so confident in his work that in 1953, he vaccinated his own family. A larger trial began in 1954 that provided vaccinations for more than 1 million children, and in April 1955, authorities announced the trial was a success and mass vaccinations could begin. That meant the vaccine needed large scale production and the pharmaceutical industry stepped up to help.

The cheers and relief experienced by Americans quickly turned to shock when within two weeks of receiving the vaccine, six children became paralyzed. Officials discovered that all six children had been inoculated using a vaccine created by Cutter Laboratories in California. The Cutter vaccine was recalled but not before 380,000 of the company’s doses had been administered. It was discovered that the formaldehyde solution Cutter Laboratories used was defective and did not inactivate the virus. Instead, the vaccines administered contained the live poliovirus. The defective vaccine led to 220,000 new infections and caused 164 to become severely paralyzed. Ten children died. The Cutter incident led to a dramatic change in government oversight of vaccine production and also changed medical liability lawsuits when Cutter was found guilty and liable without fault during the trial. Despite the tragic Cutter incident, Salk’s vaccine was successful in the fight against polio. However, the Salk vaccine was replaced in the 1960s when Albert Sabin introduced an oral polio vaccine (OPV) that relied on a weakened poliovirus and proved highly effective.

Do you have family members that suffered from polio? Learn more about polio and the development of a polio vaccine on

Share using:

Related Posts

74 thoughts on “The Development of the Polio Vaccine

  1. Jonas socks vaccine did not work. It lasted a year where is the information about Albert Sabin, and his oral vaccineWhich was the vaccine that really saved Americans? Shame on you for not adding him to this article

    1. Wrong the inoculation works and because it is inactivated it cannot cause polio. While Sabin’s oral vaccine works it is a live virus and you can get polio from it and you spread it to others, that is why it is banned in the US. It is was used in other countries longer because it is easier, to transport, store and more people can be dosed in a mass distribution situation. Sad to say but true as it was a case of what is best for the most people at the time.
      Please go to the CDC web site to update your information it is a valuable venue of knowledge.

    2. Seriously? It worked. Sabin’s Was the one that caused cases of polio. My kids had Salk first then Sabin. Sabin was in Tyne article

      1. The Sabiin vaccine does have a weakened live virus which has been known to “wake up”, though this is rare. It also only covers two of the three strains of the disease but it is heatresistant so it is better suited in hot third world countries.
        The Salk vaccine does not cause real polio, it does work and it does cover all three strains. It does need refrigeration. In the first year or two of production, there was a major qualiity control issue and a bad batch got into the public with live virus which caused a lot of cases. That was corrected and was the only the one instance.

    3. Of course it worked. My husband and I were given the Salk vaccine as young children and doses of the oral vaccine when it became available. Polio was eradicated in America until recently, when some parents started refusing to vaccinate their children. Shame on you for spreading total falsehoods!

    4. Of course it worked. My husband and I were given the Salk vaccine as young children and doses of the oral vaccine when it became available. Polio was eradicated in America until recently, when some parents started refusing to vaccinate their children. Shame on you for spreading total falsehoods!

  2. I had polio in 1949 and was one of the luckier ones and did not have paralysis. I did have some long lasting effects such as a smaller calf, sometimes difficulty swallowing, a limp, a weaker right side. I now have post polio symptoms but am still not in a wheel chair which may occur within time. Thank goodness for the vaccine that covered as many as it has.

    1. I am somewhat similar to you. My twin and I both had polio at about 1 year of age, abuot 1949 also. We also were lucky. a lot to do because of our mother getting involved. Recovered and grew up healthy, thank God.

  3. My grandfather contracted polio as a toddler and went to school in a wagon drawn by his older siblings. He graduated from high school on crutches, as valedictorian, and went on to finish law school with honors in 1912 at Washington and Lee. I’ve visited there and don’t know how he managed the hills and staircases on crutches as he surely did. He argued cases before the US Supreme Court and became mayor of Norfolk twice, during the Great Depression. He knew and admired FDR (a distant cousin of his wife) and adopted Roosevelt’s use of furniture and other folks to stand in order to disguise his disability. He was an overachiever and died early as a result, like many other polio victims.

  4. Thank you very much for this mini reminder of the polio epidemic and how the vaccines were developed and put into use. This is public health at its best even though the errors were tragic, it worked out as “good for most of the people”. I am 84 years old and well remember my aunt and cousin having polio. My aunt lived with residuals but the cousin died. My three children were born in time for the Sabin oral vaccine. We all stood in line and were happy to do so.

  5. My Auntie got polio as a child used crutches ,then wheelchair she just died a ripe old age. Worked at a government job,she was very successful. I remember taking the vaccinations as a child. I get upset that parents today opt out of childhood vaccinations

      1. Surely it must be obvious that if kids don’t get the vaccine, we run the risk of the disease reappearing. I got polio in 1948 and sustained some lasting damage both mentally and physically. I was luckier than many others. Although I have had a good and happy life I would not want polio to affect anybody ever again.

      2. I remember vividly the kids who struggled with polio. My grandfather along with his parents and 5 siblings all contracted smallpox. They survived. However, when he returned to his 1 room school, half of the students had died. I had measles and nearly died, rubella too. Thank God my daughter vaccinates her children.

        1. Such interesting and heartbreaking stories! I remember trays of sugar cubes with the vaccine drops on them, brought to our classrooms on Ramstein AFB in 1961 or 2.

      3. I don’t think the polio vaccine is one that should be avoided or dismissed by anti-vaxxers. Polio caused hysteria among parents. I was born in 1952, and I actually remember my mother being relieved that the Salk vaccine came about in 1955.

  6. My mother had polio in 1954 when we lived in LA. She was pregnant with me. She relearned to walk and did better later in life. We always wondered what if any affect it had on me as I had transverse myelitis as a young adult
    Partially paralyzed for a short time. But relearned to walk. There are still some lasting issues though.

  7. I wonder, had the anti-vaxers been around at that time, if they would have marched against the vaccines.
    Probably so.

    1. The term “antivaxxer” is a misnomer it is used to belittle people with legitimate reasons for not continuing to vaccinate. Most of these people are vaccine injured or have family members that are vaccine injured. Oral Polio Vaccinations cause I G A Nephropathy (kidney failure) in 2% of the population. That is a Department of Defense Study fact. There are many more vaccine injury facts that “antivaxxers” are aware of due to personal injury. One size does not fit all and the injury or death of one person is not acceptable.

      1. “One size does not fit all and the injury or death of one person is not acceptable.”
        The first part of this sentence completely contradicts the second part. The problem with not getting vaccinated, which is a perfectly fine personal choice, is that with an infectious disease, you run the risk of infecting entire populations. If injury or death of even one person is not acceptable, the possible injury or death of millions due to your refusal to vaccinate has to be seen as completely unacceptable. Logic works!

        1. I never understand this statement when it is made. If you or your family Have been vaccinated for say Mumps, Measles…how does my child NOT vaccinated for same cause a risk to your family..You have been vaccinated correct. Meaning you no longer worry abut getting these diseases

          1. An unvaccinated child coming into contact with an infant who has not completed their vaccinations is the problem. Or coming into contact with an adult whose immunity is low and is due a booster but is unaware.
            These are the concerns.

          2. Yeah a child with vaccines of the live virus is going to get a disease from a child that has never encountered said live viruses. Truth is the child that is vaccinated is shedding it’s virus and spreading it. There is no logic in blindly trusting anything but God. Doctors are a far cry from God

          3. 1, Not everyone develops immunity due to vaccination. The rate is low but more tha 1%.
            2. Some vaccinations, such as flu, are egg based and cannot be given to those with an egg allergy. The tetanus vaccine was based on horse blood serum, again those with allergies were in trouble. There are legitimate medical issues which are recognized in law, but the anti vaxxers are not worried by this, they have bought into a conspiracy theory sparked by a single fraudulent study.
            The other argument, the not one person argument is also invalid. If protecting that one individual costs the lives of tens of thousands, it is a legitimate tradeoff. There was a botched batch of the Salk vaccine, but they fixed the quality control instead of ditching it, and as a result far more have been saved.

    2. The real issue that doesn’t get talked about, is that most of the outbreaks of childhood disease is in the vaccinated population or usually starts there.
      There is always panic when there is an outbreak, but silence when a child is injured or dies from a vaccine, why don’t we have the same outcry?
      There has been talk of “herd” immunity for years, that has now been disproven.

      1. Sounds like anti-vaxxer nonsense to me. Measles is hitting unvaccinated groups like the NYC ultraorthodox Jews, It was eradicated in the US and we had years with no measles cases. But we live in an age where air travel can bring a diseas back in a year if we let our guard down. And indeed several outbreaks have been traced to likely exposure at a tourist destination.

  8. My cousin’s father died when she was about 5 yrs old. She had never wished me a happy birthday, but I never questioned why in more than 50 years; nor did it bother me; I was secure in our close relationship. I knew her father died but only in the last 15 years or so did she reveal the reason and confessed. He died in the iron ling from this terrible illness on the day I was born. My heart goes out to the victims of polio and their families, especially the children. My prayers to those families affected by Polio and other diseases that have caused so much pain and suffering. My mother lost her mother at age 2 (1920) from the Spanish Flu that raged during and a few years after WWI.

  9. My father, who was born in 1921, contracted polio when he was 9 yrs old. He was taken to the Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, and stayed there at the medical center until he was 15. He received many treatments and operations, and became an accomplished swimmer and boxer, because of his treatments and physical therapy at that medical center. He ended up having a limp, but otherwise in very good shape. My brother and I had the vaccine when it came to our town, around 1957 or 58. It left a scar on our left arm, but we didn’t get polio!

      1. Yes! I had forgotten (I’m 70, so I guess I get a pass). And the polio vaccine was on sugar cubes! I sure hated that small pox vaccine, it really swelled up and was sooo sore!

        1. The polio vaccine I got was given on a sugar cube. The whole town went to the University gym and all the doctors and nurses were there to give them to us. We had to do it 2 times to get enough of it. Never heard of anyone getting it in my town. They did a wonderful job of making sure everyone was going to be polio free.

  10. The Sabin vaccine became available while we were stationed at Charleston AFB, Charleston, SC. It was given on a Saturday at a local school. I had never seen so many people in one place! All of us stood in line to receive our sugar cube the nurses had just put vaccine drops on. We popped them in our mouths immediately and kept moving. I suppose there was some way of tracking who received the vaccine; since I was probably in the second grade it would have been my parents who did any paperwork and kept any certification received. I also remember being amazed at the mountains of sugar cubes. As a military dependent, both brat and wife, I’ve had the OPV many times since then as well as a multitude of other immunizations.

    1. I still have the little card that shows that i received the Sabin vaccinations. My parents chose to have all of us take the first two sugar cube vaccination but not the third one as there was still some debate about it being safe. Does anyone know what the outcome of that third dose was?

      1. That “Third” dose was for one of the THREE strains of Polio that we innoculate for. All three were safe…all three dead virus (Salk) vaccines are still given today. Sabin vaccines were stopped in the USA back in the 90s, because the AMA and the govt, did not want to chance any child getting the live virus vaccine and getting polio from the vaccine.

  11. Elizabeth McMillen September 13, 2019 said:
    I had polio at age 9 in 1951 in Royal Oak, MI, and was immediately diagnosed by our family doctor the day after my first sign of illness. He sent me to Pontiac General Hospital who did not even want to see me as I walked in on my own, but he forced a spinal tap and got the diagnosis of Polio. Spent 2 weeks there with the Sister Kenny Polio Hot Pack Treatments and sent home to be exercised by parents for at least several more weeks due to hospital over-crowding. Checked by specialist and sent back to school. Had no symptoms for years until 1981 started very slowly for many years until this last year at age 76 they are much more severe with much more pain, fatigue and weakness requiring a rollator walker! Working with new neurologist and doing MRIs next week for more information to see if anything else besides the physical therapy I have been getting the last 4 years can help. As part of a post-polio support group for 23 years, have seen it all in many different stages and have been told by experts that PPS is not a killer but makes life more challenging. As a mother of 2 daughters, grandmother of 3 grandchildren and great-grandmother to 6 great- grandchildren, have plenty to live for and do it as best that I can! Good luck and God Bless you others!

  12. To learn more, factual information about polio, may I suggest the book, POLIO, An American Story, by David Oshinsky..
    My Uncle Jim contracted polio in 1931 when he was 3 years old.
    Thank God we now have vaccines to protect us.

  13. My poor great-grandparents; they had four children. One died of polio. My great-aunt and her brother spent 8 or 9 years in side-by-side iron lungs. Great-grandma cared for them every day. My grandmother was the only child spared. My great-aunt eventually was able to walk with braces. She was amazing- put herself through college and had a great career. My great-uncle walked normally but always had health issues; neither ever married.
    When the polio vaccine became available, I was six, the right age to be a “Polio Pioneer,” participating in the Salk vaccine trials. My parents didn’t hesitate for a second to enroll me. I didn’t understand fully what I was doing, but I knew I didn’t want to end up with polio.

  14. We are in the UK and my father who is now 92 contracted polio in 1929. At the the time when it was called infantile paralysis they placed him in a cast for several months.
    This resulted in him having a small paralysed leg leaving him unable to walk. Following operations to straighten his leg he began to wear a calliper and eventually learned to walk .
    Over the years he was fully active and played with me during my childhood to the extent it was second nature to me.
    Now in later years he has developed pps and is unable to walk and we have to use a wheelchair to get him anywhere.
    As with all cases he has been told by various professors and doctors that there is nothing at the moment to counteract the pps.
    Despite this he has travelled widely and still enjoys his days out and holidays when I take him away.
    At the time I was born , in the late 50’s, there was still slight uncertainty as to whether it was hereditary or not. So like all children I was vaccinated.
    It is through people like Drs.Salk and Sabin that it is now almost eradicated.
    As with most problems our professor has said that due to eradication the funding for ongoing research has been reduced therefore causing likely cures etc. to be delayed or possibly prevented.

  15. I still have the little card that shows that i received the Sabin vaccinations. My parents chose to have all of us take the first two sugar cube vaccination but not the third one as there was still some debate about it being safe. Does anyone know what the outcome of that third dose was?

    1. I’m not going to read that long link. Why don’t you just summarize it for us so we know where you really stand instead of making innuendos.

      1. It would have been appropriate for Steve to have written a brief synopsis of the article. However, logical people will open the article to read it for expanding their knowledge, regardless of their position on the matter. I did.

  16. My father had polio when he was 34 years old. He got it in July 1952 and by Aug 4th he was dead. He was in an iron lung but he got pneumonia. Left my mother with 3 children, 10, 7, and 4.

    1. My mother contracted polio in 1945, when I was 2 years old. After she was in the old Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, for more than a year,, thanks to generosity of several persons, she was able to come home and spent several hours each day in a full body iron lung like the one shown in the article. she lived till 1950, and I have so many good memories of those years despite how all our family was effected.

  17. I was one of the last to get polio in 1958 I have had my leg shortened when I was 18 to help and lived a fairly normal life. Ridiculed as a child not realising why until I saw myself in a window when I was older. I was diagnosed with post polio sydrome a few years ago but dont believe the diagnosis was correct as I can still do most things I want to do without issue. I am lucky but as I get older I do worry about my mobility in the future.

  18. I got the shot in the 1950s but not from the Cutter batch. I do remember the scare about the vaccine especially having grown up in California.

  19. I had polio in 1951, but I was still taken by my Dad to the family doctor for the two boosters because apparently he knew something about there being 3 types of polio we could get: Brunhilde, Leon and Lansing. I had thought I was done with shots – that’s funny isn’t it!!

  20. For those who are still advocating for a vaccine free life for their children, I think they have that right. Of course their children should be home schooled so that there’s no chance of them infecting others. They shouldn’t expose others by using playgrounds and other public spaces either. My immune system is compromised and I wear a mask in public. We can not expect young children to go through life like this. The recurrence of measles is due to the no-vaccine movement. Must we wait and see if polio will also be back?

  21. My grandfather contracted Infantile Paralysis the first part of 1882. He was 18 months old. Luckily he survived with a crippled arm and a limp. I remember in the 1940’s (I was born in 1938) and early 1950’s the almost terror that parents had that their children would get polio. The mother of one of my friends was in an iron lung in her house. There were a whole list of rules to follow to avoid Polio. I remember being indignant that I had to take an afternoon nap at age 10. It was believed that if you were overly tired you were susceptible. I remember hundreds of people got polio in any one city during the ‘polio season’, mainly the summer. In June, 1955, my dad, who was a doctor, made sure we all had the Salk vaccine. I made sure that my 5 children had first the Salk and then the Sabin. Thank Goodness for those vaccines and difference they made.

  22. After reading all these posts I wonder if any of you have any idea what it is like to have Polio. I have polio, I got it in the early summer of ’52. I was 18 months. What amazes me is that no body has mentioned how you get Polio. IT IS A “VIRUS.” Makes anyone vulnerable if they have not been vaccinated and people that keep their children from getting the vaccinated are playing with fire.. I was treated at Children’s hospital in Detroit. Spent several weeks there with a high fever and very sick. With all my years growing up I was hospitalized nearly every summer undergoing surgeries. I walked with crutches and now in my adult life I am in a wheelchair full time, both legs paralyzed and with PPS I was married, one son and now 3 grandsons. My son was fully vaccinated His boys were fully vaccinated with all the shots and boosters they needed, They are all healthy, Polio is not to be taken lightly. It is hell with pain and serious weakness as an older adult, 68 it is progressed and I must rethink everything I do to keep active and well. Polio will never be eradicated… NEVER because it is a VIRUS.. it is found in ponds and lakes and shallow areas. The virus is alive and well. Until the later days of summer when the sun burns off this virus. Only to come back in the spring. I have studied and researched and many years learning from my orthopedic dr who was head of Motts Childrens hospital in Ann Arbor. Make this a priority when you have a chance to speak to young parents easily suggest to them not to deny their children the vaccines they need. The fear comes from people thinking that all these childhood illnesses are eradicated. NO THEY ARE NOT.. Quit playing with your children’s health. My parents did all they could to take care of my surgeries and years of therapies it is costly and yes being a polio survivor it is extremely painful.

    1. Actually it is being eradicated. Some viruses, such as the flu, exist in multiple animal species and can keep coming back to humans. On the other hand small pox and polio do not have nonhuman hosts and can be eradicated. Small pox has been eradicated and polio is now limited to a handful of towns along the Pakistan and Afghan borders. (The Taliban are also anti-vaxxers).

      1. Sorry, wish this were correct. The LA Times just this weekend published the story that the vaccinations are in trouble with new stories about dangers and one leader using holding up on the vaccinations to get greater economic funding for his area. I know the Himalayan regions well, the Pakistani border especially. It is easy for a couple of bad stories to be told and the vaccines are refused. Also some of those working to do the vaccines have recently been killed. If the Pres of Pakistan keeps his promise to do away with polio, part of his electioneering, there is a chance but right now polio seems to be making a comeback there.

  23. As I said earlier, I had polio in 1951, mild case caught early, recovered and got a hint of PPS in mid 1980s. Many years later have been the Sunshine Lady for the Boca Area Post Polio Group. We have had many speakers but the one that returns every February is a Microbiologist from Tauro College in NY who has told us many helpful hints. The main one that is a recent discovery, possibly last 15 or 20 years is that the only way to catch polio is by having the Polio Receptor in your body. His example was something like this: a family of four are swimming in same water and only one of the four develops polio. That is the one that had the Polio Receptor! Every visit from him involves a reminder for all parents to have their children vaccinated because as he says, ” Polio is only a plane ride away.” He started developing some muscle issues with weakness maybe 7-9 years ago, and after everything else was eliminated, one doctor said he thought he had polio as a child and put him in either brace/braces. His only living relative was an aunt here in south Florida who was dying, and when he asked her if he had ever had polio, she said “Who told you?” and became upset. Turned out in the neighborhood they lived it having a child with polio was a very serious problem, and they hid it from everyone including himself. So now he experiences everything the rest of us are PPS symptoms.

  24. I didn’t read every response to this article but as one person said, “polio is just a plane ride away.” For that reason over 30 years ago Rotary International to rid the world of this dread disease. Partnering with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more recently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotarians have administered the vaccine to countless millions of children in Africa, India, and the middle east. Today, only a handful of cases remain in Pakistan and Afghanistan with India being certified “polio free” a couple of years ago. So the next time you meet a Rotarian please don’t hesitate to thank them for this laudable effort to make the world safer for all children.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I mother had polio as a young mother before I was born and spent her life on crutches and in a wheelchair. So when I first heard all about Rotary’s efforts I immediately became a Rotarian. It has been wonderful to experience so many different ways to serve others.

  25. My father got polio in 1954, just before the Salk vaccine was approved. At 5, it is one of my most vivid memories, watching from the landing of the stairs with my little sister, as my father, 6’1″ and athletic, was carried out into the night for a 70 mile ambulance dash to a hospital in Baltimore. He was in an iron lung for a while. That pic of a mother and a small child beside an iron lung looks very similar to my parents and baby sister, though I do not believe it is actually them. Dad got out of the iron lung, but walked like Frankenstein;s monster; a slipping throw rug would bring him down and it would take two people to get him up
    Eventually he broke his leg, and having to wear a brace which overstressed the breathing adaptations he had made, and he died of respiratory failure, post polio syndrome, at age 52 in 1976. I was coming home from a year abroad, and he died about the time my flight was taking off from Athens.
    I have no tolerance for anti-vaxxers.

    1. In 1948, my twenty-three year old mother, 18 month old brother, and 4 month old sister all contracted polio while we lived at MCAS in Cherry Point, NC. They were transported to Duke University Hospital in
      Durham, NC for treatment. My mother and brother had Bulbar/one type of polio and my sister had another which caused paralysis in her legs. I was three. My families’ polio and it aftermath profoundly effected

  26. I can’t help but chuckle to see the same conversation going on here, now, as I heard growing up in Pittsburgh. When I was 12 and getting the first Salk vaccine shot, our parents were terrified we would get polio. Six years later, as a student at Pitt, I heard about more controversy, and later, how the university had opposed the work Salk was doing. With all of the discussion about whether it worked, whether it was dangerous, the Salk vs Pitt controversy, then whether we should eat the Sabin wafer ten years later, this subject requires a book. This history is so detailed and complex, and many of the “facts” so dubious, we need a good history-of-science writer to start at square one, research it thoroughly, separating the science from the hysteria (identifying which was which), examining the source(s) of funding for development, and analyzing the controversies, their motivations, and outcomes.

    1. I made a comment earlier, BUT, did not address the vaccines. I wonder now if knowing the actual factual history will help others learn to have children vaccinated against measles, etc. IF I shared more of what I remember of our family’s experience with polio in the 50’s, would it have a positive effect in decreasing the number of those who fear and do not have their children vaccinated.

  27. I have been so interested in all the comments here and how varied the stories are. I will add mine, not even close to those here. In the summer after 3rd grade my sister, my cousin and I went swimming at a military base pool. We all were great swimmers, and so full of fun. By night something was very wrong with my cousin, a year older than I. He went off to the hospital immediately, 30 miles away. The next morning I saw my sister, just a little one, sleeping with her eyes open. My mother called for the ambulance and off we went again, because I too was not feeling well. We were put in a room together, but my cousin was in an iron lung down the hall. A big tray covered in a red stripped dish town was brought in, and unveiled it was not food! Big silver instruments. Taking the fluid from our spines to see if we had polio. Indeed yes. Eventually we were released from the hospital but without our cousin. We had seen our uncle there, were told he had come to take him home. Only later did we find that he had died. Neither of us girls were paralyzed. 6 months later I came down with a severe case of Valley Fever, spending 6 months in bed. For the rest of my school life I was fine and dreamt of a swimming career that ended up not being allowed by a Dad who wanted a lawyer from me. Given that I was determined to be the mistress of my own life, I began my swimming career. Many swims later, with the Straits of Gibraltar and a double crossing of the Straits of Messina, and swims in Turkey and elsewhere being among them, I settled into a professional life to make use of my college education. Then I began having difficulty walking. Then huge pains, loss of use of a leg or an arm at various times, and being stuffed with steroids. Not acceptable! Finally a doctor had a look at my spine as I had been telling everyone was needed. Oh, yes, there are the problems, you are so close to losing the ability to walk ever again. Surgery 1 on lower spine, surgery 2 on the neck. Recover by learning to walk again. But why walk when you can do better by running? 10K’s went to marathon after marathon, then to my first 100 miles, and then longer and longer and a decision that I would run the full length of Japan. OK, got that one done. Now off to the Himalayas to run the full length, at altitude, and with a dog! Did that one, thought about a cross China run. No, even in those years, too much pollution and no Chinese permission. Now, at 82 I have 2 full time jobs and on occasion walk as if I am tipsy. It is, on any given day a hip or a knee or the other knee. And somewhere in the back of my mind, there is still one more physical effort I would like to try for one more record. Polio did not inhibit me, but it totally dominated decisions and directions in my life. I don’t know if it is the polio that gave me the type A attitude or that I had it all the while. At this point it is immaterial because in so many ways they are the same.

    1. Mary Margaret, you are the most amazing, accomplished woman! Thank you for telling your uplifting story. When I was 7, an 8 year old boy in a wheelchair moved in on the corner of our street. His name was Michael, and when he had awakened on the first day of first grade two years before, he had not been able to get out of bed. He spent an entire year in an iron lung in the hospital and then was able to attend classes at Gorman School, near the Barney Children’s Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. I was fascinated by Michael from the start, and could not wait to get home from my own school and run down the street to play with him. He started at my Catholic school in 6th grade and was in my class for 3 years. His dad carried him up 3 flights of stairs every day to the 6th grade room and came every day to take him home for lunch and back to school again. I cannot measure or even express the effect Michael must have had on my own personal development. He was a kind, gentle, funny and smart boy who never mentioned his disability. His mom told me at the time that he was the only child who contracted all three polio strains and lived. His sister recently told me that he was taken home from the hospital to die, a fact she was not told until she was an adult. Michael lived over 10 years, and died in his sleep at age 16. That was 60 years ago this coming January, and I still shed tears every time I think of him. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story, Mary Margaret. I do think polio has left an indelible, invisible mark on all of those who suffered from it, and also on those of us who had any prolonged contact with relatives and friends who suffered from it. God bless you with health and energy to continue living your outstanding, sweet life for many more years to come!

  28. I was one of the children, at age eight, who participated in the 1954 trial of the Salk vaccine. A nurse came to my school and asked for volunteers. My parents had to give their consent and there were only about five children who volunteered. I remember it was a series of three inoculations and each one made my arm hurt, but left no scar, unlike my smallpox vaccination. And all five of us did not get polio.

  29. To Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin – Good heavens! Congratulations on a fantastic life lead so well and so full of adventures! I am so impressed as all PPSers should be and also more than a little jealous! You are more than a Type A personality and I would give you an A+, which is very well deserved. I did not do any of the accomplishments that you did, but am happy with what I did and my family of two fantastic daughters who are closer than close, my wonderful grand kids and great-grand kids and husband of 57+ years as we were high school sweethearts. I also do not intend to let Post-Polio Syndrome get me down because the only way to go is up! I can always use my rollator walker to chase any of our 5 cats! God Bless!

    1. Thank you Elizabeth McMillen…I confess that in reflecting on my life, which in my community I find I often must do, that my type A or as you put it A+ really gets me in trouble more than it should. That determination those months going from 3rd grade summer to 4th grade summer had an incredibly enormous impact on me. First of all I had great interest in FDR and was greatly saddened when he passed. As I spent so many months in bed with the Valley Fever the school brought me the Scholastic magazines. There I read about the contest to design the flag for UNICEF by children. It was too late to enter but I made my flag and wrote a note card to Pres. Truman anyway, telling him that I was sure he could get it into the contest in spite of lateness, or he could fly it over the harbor on the Potomac. On the very day I was first allowed out of bed and outdoors on the lawn my father called my mother and asked what had I been up to in the past months. He had received a call from the post office that there was a letter for me from the White House! They were stunned! For me it was the sealing of the attitude from the time in the hospital a year before with the polio when I told the nurse I would win out over the polio. It is in learning how to live and thrive happily in spite of such a disease that makes so many of us with this disease so strong and living well lived lives! Thanks for your reply!

  30. To James Horn – I’m sorry that you lost your father at such a young age! I also want to add to your list of countries not certified polio free yet the country of Nigeria. We had a gentleman from Nigeria who was a polio survivor speak to us twice, and they are not yet polio free. He is involved in Wheelchairs for Nigeria and has been making bikes for his stricken people that have helped them get some education, some jobs and lead a better life without having to walk on their hands as he does. Any of you might want to check it out as I know how very grateful they are for any help to their cause. It is unbelievable to see how most of them have lived!!

  31. I do remember being among those getting the 1954 Salk vaccine at age 10 in the 4th grade. It was done on the school lawn with cots all around for any who felt faint. Later had the Sabin as well. A classmate lived in a house across the street & a number of us often visited LInda, in an iron lung, after school. Seeing her lying helpless haunts me still at age 74. I had all the childhood diseases except mumps. Was very sick with measles for weeks & my sister was hospitalized when it resulted in pneumonia. My mother died after baby-sitting her grandson who had chicken pox while her immunity was low due to treatment for chronic leukemia. I find it unbelievable that so many people refuse to vaccinate their children based on hysteria & politics. Herd immunity is critical. My career in public health has only reinforced those concerns that we are moving backwards as a society.

  32. My mother-in-law contracted polio when she was 7-years old. It crippled her feet so that she could not walk. In order to allow her to walk again, the doctors removed all of her metataurals in both feet. which shortened her foot length by a couple inches. She wound up needing a size 5 shoe instead of a 7 or 8. She couldn’t run like other people, but it didn’t keep her off the golf course.

  33. I contracted Polio as a male Army Cadet (R.C.A.C.) here in Canada in 1952 at 15 years of age. There were approx. 1500 Boys at Can. Armed Forces facility near Grand Bend, Ontario. Salk vacine still almost 2 years away. Several of us (no girls at camp in 1952) were on sick call, but received no treatment at local hospitals (Grand Bend, Ont.) At the height of the Polio epidemic in North America. We were under the “Care and Control” of the Canadian Armed Forces while at that training facility (7 weeks) in the summer of 1952. I was sent home in an army vehicle some 250 miles away. My parents immediately sent me to our family physician, where I was diagnosed with Polio. Rushed by ambulance to Kingston General (Polio centre for eastern Ontario) – admitted – quarantined- Spinal Tap – scar remains – Sister Kenny treatment – no sedatives – took Ist yr. High School in hosp.
    I was never visited or contacted by the Cadet or Reg. Army Corps regarding my condition -schooling. I am in my 83rd. year now, and still trying to get answers from the Armed Forces regarding their care for the Cadets, while serving at that facility. I have managed my life with a great deal of pain, after PPS hit me about 35 years after my initial bout with Polio in 1952. I walk with canes or a walker on occasion – have always been employed – raised – educated my children. On my own- forced to leave High School in 1955 I managed to succeed in my Sales career through the years. Finished my secondary education – graduated at age 79. Noting that this “site” contains Polio stories, mostly from U.S. addresses, I would like to ask if anyone out there (Canada / U.S.) has had any Military involvement in their Polio background. Cadets – Reg. Armed Forces – anything that might help me get the answers I need to complete this painful and miserable page of life with Paralytic Polio plus PPS.
    Best regards …… F. Rosborough – Ontario, Canada.

  34. Hello- All your stories remind me of my late husband’s bout with polio, contracted when he was 3 in 1955. Baby pictures show a smiling and active toddler. Over time he had surgery to help him walk but it shortened 1 leg by several inches. He had a career as a hardware engineer when computers came on the scene and built or rehabbed numerous houses and apartments in his spare time. During all those years he raised a family but his daughter has become a so-called antivaxxer, not even vaccinating her children against polio!! He died 2 yrs ago from a massive heart attack at 65 but prior to that had been having what his doctor called PPS. I have often wondered what he would have accomplished in his later years had he lived.

    1. Steph Winter: Polio & P.P.S. survivors generally are a “Special Breed”. To tell them, at an early age that they will need to accept their fate & to NOT expect to accomplish lofty levels of success that others around them have or will have, is MOTIVATION enough for persons like your late husband. Never before has the saying – “When the Going Gets tough” – THE TOUGH GET GOING. been more appropriate than when referring to Polio / P.P.S. survivors. Was your late husband vaccinated prior to his episode with Polio ? I am saddened that his daughter has chosen Anti-Vaxxing after her Dads experience and considering the sacrifices made by the Medical Pioneers & the Public Support of North Americans as a people to take on this “killer” disease & win the gift of life for countless children & adults in both our countries & others around the world.
      Best Regards – Ford R.

  35. I was born in 1954. My parents made sure I got vaccines that were available. I got the mumps and chicken pox because there weren’t vaccines for them. I certainly didn’t like being sick and having to get shots because the chicken pox got infected and I couldn’t walk without pain. I would have rather had a vaccine instead. I never got any of the measles and when vaccines came out I got 2. I am 64 years old and found thru a blood test my antibodies are low. The VA gave me the MMR vaccine a couple of months ago. I had no side effects. I’m happy to have done it. I won’t get measles and spread them around. Your welcome!

  36. Mary: Thank you for info re Veterans Affairs info. I may contact them re their prog. on Polio Victims for those struck while in the service. ……………………… Ford R.

Comments are closed.