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Tony Smith

Jefferson City

Dear Editor:

Life is uncertain.

I remember it was a beautiful sunny day. It was late spring. I was walking home from kindergarten. I don't know what my parents thought when I got home. Did I have a fever? Was I unsteady on my feet? My memory was vague after that. I spent three months in a hospital being treated for polio. It was 1950, and I was in a ward for cripple children. Visiting was limited. I recall my mother often leaving with tears.

Polio wasn't new. In 1921, the New York Times reported Franklin Roosevelt, at age 39, was stricken with polio. How did it happen? His case was far more serious than mine. The general public never knew how impaired he was as the press did not report it. As we know, in the end, he did not let his condition stop him from serving the nation.

After WWII, there was a severe outbreak of polio. By 1949, the nation was in a panic. The cause of the disease was unknown. It heavily affected children. Movie theaters, zoos, swimming pools and many other public places were closed. That year, there were more than 40,000 cases. It was a summer plague. In 1952, there were 60,000 cases and 3,145 deaths. For some, the symptoms were minor. For others, they survived with a lifetime of disabilities.

Franklin Roosevelt, a polio survivor, dedicated the rest of his life to promoting prevention and a cure for polio. He began and promoted the most successful private charity in American history, the March of Dimes. This charity provided the money to create two effective polio vaccines over time. The Salk vaccine was the most well-known. These vaccines were a triumph of medical science which eliminated polio from America and most of the world. When asked if he would patent his vaccine, Salk said, "Would you patent the sun?" It was truly a different world than today.

Past history has not been simpler or easier. Problems that seemed unsolvable were solved. There is no guarantee that we will solve and conquer our present challenges. Churchill said the future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope.

I was fortunate. A new plague faces America. Will we face it directly? Will we try to ignore it? It's man versus nature. There is uncertainty.

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