January 20, 2016
A polio survivor dreams to end polio for good
Ian (John) Ruggles, Rotary member from Big Rapids, Michigan
Over the past several years, I have attended a BBQ dinner fundraiser sponsored by our local Rotary club at the Mecosta County Fair in Big Rapids, Michigan. Last year the club president, Ben Montgomery, introduced himself and told me about Rotary and the good work they do in our community.
I learned that Rotary's main cause was to eradicate polio. As a polio survivor myself, I knew that I wanted to help in any way that I could. Ben invited me to the next meeting and I joined immediately.
I contracted the disease in 1947, when I was 3 years old, well before the vaccine was invented. Everyone who had polio in my hometown went to the University of Michigan for treatment. Rehabilitation practices were haphazard back then and I lost 95 percent use of my right arm, but I was one of the lucky ones. I didn't end up in a wheelchair or an iron lung, like other kids I knew.
I remember playing baseball with other polio survivors in my neighborhood. One of my teammates was a girl who wore braces and our catcher was a boy in a wheelchair. I don't think there was a neighborhood in the country that wasn't affected by polio.
In high school, I played varsity football for Jack Fitzpatrick, a great former NFL football player. With mentors like him, I was able to gain a lot of self-confidence. I wasn't going to let polio get in the way of me playing a game that I loved. Coach Fitzpatrick introduced me to the head coach at Adrian College, "Chappy" Marvin. Both of these mentors made me believe that my handicap was never an issue.
I became involved in Rotary to help end this terrible disease. I'm worried about communities, right here in the U.S., not vaccinating their children. We don't need another outbreak here. I want to help educate people about the fear we had as children, before the vaccine was invented. I can still recall the excitement and relief that we felt once the Salk vaccine was to announced to be safe and effective.
Can you imagine no more children suffering from the polio? There are so many diseases that we cannot prevent, but we can have an actual chance to eradicate this disease. There are some things that we just don't have to deal with and polio is one of them. I hope that we see our last case in 2016.
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