Friday, October 26, 2007

Fighting Polio in 1952 Part III

Dear March of Dimes,

This is just a word of thanks for what you did for my sister back in 1952. My mother has, see March on Polio photo above, worked out her own thanks over the course of many years. In fact at 87 years old, this is the first year since 1952 that she has not volunteered to collect money for your organization in her neighborhood. In the 50’s era photo here, she acted as city of Altoona chairperson.

I found this photo last week as I rummaged through old photos and memories at my home place. My childhood room is pine-paneled with plenty of dark brown knots that for years, in my imagination, transformed themselves into the eyes and pointy nose of a fox or the snout and furry ears of a bear cub as I fell asleep to the lullaby traffic of 25th Avenue. There are small pullaway eave doors in that room through which we access storage compartments. There I found a treasure trove of pictures, clippings, and other precious paraphernalia.

At any rate among all that stuff, I found the pictures and clippings for this and the last “polio post.” How our distant past rises sometimes? For my sister, it rises when she notices a weakness that might be attributable to Post Polio Syndrome. For me, it is a reminder that this old mother of mine was transformed in her early marriage and early mothering by the Herculean challenge of fighting, for her child, a disease that struck fear in hearts.

And, dear March of Dimes, they fought successfully because of you and the work you did then. So thank you for the dollars you invested, not just in research that eventually resulted in a highly successful and universally used polio vaccine, but for the dollars that paid for an enormous hospital bill and the treatment that saved my sister from the crippling power of polio.


The text of the article pictured below follows.

Debbie Rupe Successfully Conquers Germ

The shocking words, “Your daughter has been moved to the polio ward for treatment” brought the first realization to Mrs. Jack Rupe of Altoona that three year old Debbie had become number 31 of the polio cases admitted to the Altoona hospital during 1952.

It was early in September when Debbie’s usual sunny disposition began to undergo a change. She became cranky during the day and wakeful at night. Though her mother treated her for her sore throat Debbie was too young to explain how she really felt. When it became obvious that it was an effort for her to sit up and that she didn’t want to stand on her feet, she was admitted to the hospital for observation. In time came the frightening words dreaded by every parent.

That evening, filled with worry and apprehension, Mr. and Mrs. Rupe visited the polio ward to talk with Miss Mardell Gunsallus, supervisor of the department. Since Debbie was in isolation they could do no more than look in at her from the door of the room. They found the nurse’s words reassuring. Even more of a relief was the sight of other youngsters, playing cheerfully in their beds, obviously getting the best and friendliest of care.

On their next visit the Rupes found that Debbie had been joined in the isolation room by Denny Fortney, three and one-half, of Mount Union. It was the beginning of a friendship destined to last even after both had been discharged from the hospital. Tears which began to flow as Debbie’s mother and dad prepared to leave were stopped when Denny offered her his treasured music box.

Weeks passed as Debbie went through the polio ward’s routine of hot packs, stretching exercise and lessons in walking. It was found that she was one of the lucky ones who suffered a general weakness of the limbs rather than any definite paralysis.

November 18 was the happy day when her parents were notified that Debbie was ready to be discharged from the hospital. She was walking proudly but she was reluctant to take leave of Denny, her playmate of the past seven weeks. Denny, on his part, was to miss his “diri fren” during his remaining weeks in the ward.

Jack Rupe was fortunate enough to have hospital insurance which covered part of the bill for Debbie’s care, but the remainder was still a heavy burden since polio is a most expensive illness to treat.

In an interview with Roy Thompson, chairman of the Blair county chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, he learned that the March of Dimes money not only equips and staffs the polio ward, but also pays for patient care when needed.

The American people give annually to the March of Dimes to assure that no one stricken with the disease will go without adequate medical and hospital care for lack of funds. Each year thousands of these same people suddenly find that they are the recipients of this aid.

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