Published Saturday, November 15, 2008
The Newnan Times-Herald
The Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation celebrated the near eradication of polio on Friday with ceremonies inducting four organizations into the Polio Hall of Fame.
The Polio Hall of Fame -- on one side of one of the institute's historic buildings -- was dedicated in 1957 and features busts of scientists and advocates who helped eliminate polio as a health issue in the United States. Today, polio is gone from all but four countries in the world -- Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nigeria.
The elimination of polio in most nations -- and the continued work to eradicate the crippling disease -- has been moved forward since 1988 when Rotary International, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and UNICEF joined forces.
Those four organizations were added to the Hall of Fame on Friday afternoon.
Speakers at the ceremonies in the institute's auditorium included Hall Delano "Del" Roosevelt, grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Dr. Peter Salk, son of Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine; and Ike Skelton, a U.S. representative from Missouri since 1977 who was a patient at Warm Springs as a teen.
Greg Schmieg, the Cowetan who is RWSIR executive director, noted "it was not so long ago" that "our country and our world were plagued by the disease of polio." Schmieg said "the world is eternally indebted to" the initial heroes who found treatment and vaccines for polio and to the newer generation of organizations who have delivered "hope to defeat polio to the furthest parts of our planet."
The most moving speaker was Skelton, who recalled what it was like to be young and facing polio. Skelton was he "had a real thrill" shortly before the ceremonies when he met Joyce Stuckey, "an old friend and fellow patient."
He spoke of being among "those who could not walk, those who could not move their limbs, those who did not want to go back to school, those who thought life was -- nothing -- ahead of them." He then emphatically said, "That was all changed right here."
Warm Springs not only provided needed medical care and therapy. The experience also served "to give inspiration to the patients to go back home and do the best you can," he said. "You know what? It worked."
Skelton said, "This place is magic."
Del Roosevelt, whose grandfather had polio and founded what became RWSIR before he became president, spoke of being in the same place with descendants of those involved in the fight to eradicate the scourge. "This is the closest I've come to a family reunion in a long time," he said.
He also said RWSIR -- despite its international stature -- also has a connection "to people of Georgia and to people here in Meriwether County." The institute also shares with his grandfather the concept of deciding where to go and then planning how to get there.
Peter Salk, an AIDS researcher, said it is important to remember not only well known scientists but "all the individuals behind them working in laboratories." He praised the groups who are working "to get rid of the last vestiges of this disease."
Descendants of others on the Hall of Fame were present for Friday's ceremonies. Heloisa Sabin, whose late husband, Dr. Albert Sabin, developed an oral vaccine a few years after Salk's breakthrough, was also present.
Accepting the awards presented by Schmieg and Roosevelt were Carol Pandak, Rotary; Werner Obermayer, deputy director, WHO; Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of immunization, CDC; and Dr. Ahmed Magan, senior health advisor/chief of immunization, UNICEF.
Schuchat remembered visiting Warm Springs as a girl with her parents. They told her "when they were growing up, there really was only one disease, and that was polio," she recalled.
Pandak said Rotary got involved in fighting polio because there was "a cost effective and readily available vaccine" that could eliminate the disease.
Schuchat said, "Our commitment to polio eradication is about people and places -- prevention and hope." She said 145 laboratories in 90 countries tested 156,000 samples for polio last year.
Magan, a physician from Somalia, said UNICEF got two million doses of the vaccine to 27 countries in a single year. He also spoke of "the millions of health workers" who make the program work.
Obermayer expressed the WHO's commitment getting the vaccine to "every child under the age of 5 ... no matter where." He also spoke of "the generosity of the American people and their government" for the largest financial commitment to the polio project.
Reflecting on the partnership, Magan said, "Each of the partners brings a unique set of skills." Looking back on the 20-year partnership, Pandak said, "Our resolve to finish the job has never been stronger."