Possibly a Repeating Glimpse of Faith.

As a child during the 1940’s I remember the fear that existed for a virus called the poliomyelitis virus. This virus mostly attacked children and required human beings as a host in order to survive.  President Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio when he was 39 years old in 1921 and this virus left him essentially paraplegic. In his effort to rehab himself he purchased the land on which the warm mineral waters in Warm Springs, Georgia was located. This occurred in 1926. As a result of his efforts to rehab himself he reentered politics and was elected the governor of New York State in 1928 and elected President of the United States in 1932. In an effort to fund research and treatment of victims of polio President Roosevelt and his former law partner Basil O’Connor established Birthday Balls every year from 1934 to 1937 on January 30 (FDR’s birthday). There were up to 6000 communities that held these balls and the proceeds went to the Warm Springs Foundation.  Because of the political implications of the President using his office to raise money for one charity, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was established in 1937 and Basil O’Connor was named the president. Later that year entertainer Eddie Cantor suggested the term “March of Dimes.” This fund-raising term immediately became identified with the disease polio. A few years later the March of Dimes organized the Mothers March on Polio and this day was on January 30. People would turn on their porch lights if they wished to contribute. Also short newsreels were shown in movie theaters for the Benefit of the March of Dimes, usually featuring a Hollywood actor or actress such as Greer Garson.

The poliovirus seemed to flourish during the summer months when children were out of schools and using swimming pools, rivers, ponds, and creeks for enjoyment. The virus was often transmitted by water. On Sunday, September 17, 1950 at the age of eleven I woke up that morning with fever, nausea, and a stiff neck. On the next day the family doctor diagnosed it as “the devil’s grippe.” By September 20, I could no longer walk and three days later I was admitted to the polio isolation ward on 9 South at MCV.  During this year of the worst polio epidemic in Virginia there were four polio wards at MCV on 9 South (isolation ward), 9 West, 5 South, and 5 West.  There was also a floor in St. Phillip Hospital (the African American hospital at MCV). I was discharged three months later on December 18, 1950. I walked out of the hospital using two long leg braces and two wooden crutches.  This experience inspired me to want to become a physician.

Some years later I learned that my family had health insurance for me, but that insurance ended midway through my hospitalization. The March of Dimes paid the balance.  My total bill was $1015.  I returned to school a year after contracting polio and I was still wearing a long leg brace on my right leg, which I wear to this day. I finished high school, got a pre-med scholarship to Washington and Lee University and graduated there.

I was accepted at both the UVA med school and the MCV med school. I had no problem on deciding on which medical school to enter. Twelve years had elapsed since I contracted polio but I had no idea on how to finance the tuition at MCV.  Just before graduating from W&L the chairman of the biology department, Dr. Kenneth Stevens, called me into his office and recommended that I apply for a National Foundation Health Scholarship.

In 1955 the Salk vaccine was released and was effective in preventing polio. A few years later the Sabin vaccine was released and could be administered by sugar cubes.  The numbers of polio victims annually dropped significantly by 1960, but the March of Dimes had lots of money. Before the shift to focusing on preventing and treating birth defects the National Foundation had shifted some of their grants to medical and nursing education. During the summer of 1962 I received a letter in the mail that stated I would be a recipient of a National Foundation Health Scholarship to attend MCV. I also received some lesser grants from the Virginia Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and the only requirement for those grants was to promise to practice medicine in the State of Virginia for at least two years after completing medical school.

The certificate from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis regarding the health scholarship hangs in my office today and is signed by Basil O’Connor. Over the years, these little advantages as the result of a virus can be viewed as a repeating glimpse of faith.

An even greater blessing came on December 31, 1964 when I met Brenda and we were married eleven weeks later. I would not be here today if not for her love and presence.

Kluger, Jeffrey Splendid Solution; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; New York, 2004, pp 43-44, 67-69.