Today in America, Polio seems like ancient history. In the account below, contained in the McPherson County history book, the most recent entry is 1954, as the Salk vaccine became available in 1955. Sadly, for the rest of the world, Polio remains a present threat.
Excerpted from: McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890
Over the years McPherson County has had several people who have contracted the dreaded disease of infantile paralysis or poliomyelitis. Polio, in short, is an acute infectious disease, usually of children, caused by a virus inflammation of the gray matter of the spinal cord, often resulting in muscular paralysis.
We find there were two cases of polio in 1939. Robert Dancer, son of Ray Dancer, contracted the disease in November and Myrtle Nicholson, a little later. It affected Myrtle’s leg. Myrtle wears a brace yet today. Myrtle married Leo Miller.
On January 18, 1940, Cleo Neal entered the North Platte hospital with polio. Archie and Cleo Neal had just become parents of a son, Keith, on December 29, 1939. Cleo’s left arm was left paralyzed.
In September 1942, Ray Fowler was struck with polio, he was left little use of his legs and hips.
In October 1942, Mary Lou Tupper was struck with the dreaded disease. She was a high school student, so school was closed.
On August 7, 1947, Annabel Thompson was rushed to a North Platte hospital with polio. A wheel chair has been her close companion in the years since.
In 1954, the dread scare came again when three area people contracted the disease.
Ronnie Taylor, age four, small son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Taylor, a high school teacher, became ill. Ronnie wore braces for a long time but eventually played sports in high school.
Robert Moore, son of Mr. and Mrs. Herschel Moore, was rushed to North Platte and on to Grand Island, to be in an iron lung. Bobby just lived five days. He was 17 and a Junior in high school and had been in football practice for two weeks.
Reva Cotton, age four, daughter of Bob and Jack Cotton was also stricken. The following account was written by her father, Bob.
Reva’s condition was critical when they reached Children’s Hospital and she was immediately placed in the iron lung where she stayed for six weeks. By that time the critical stage was over and the muscle damage had been done. She couldn’t walk or help herself in any way. They started therapy treatments which they continued for six months. At that time she was in a body brace and on crutches. They said they had done all they could for her so she was dismissed. Her parents continued to give her therapy at home and in North Platte for the next four years.
They performed a number of surgical operations on her legs and back during that time, besides various therapy treatments. They also continued her schooling while she was there. Her longest continuous stay in Shriners Hospital was when they fused ten vertebra in her back in one operation. She was there six months that time and came home in a body cast from below her hips up to her chin.
There were also two other cases of polio in McPherson County in 1954, Robert Moore and Ronald Taylor. The sad part of all this was that the Salk vaccine was perfected and available the following year 1955 and the end of polio was here.