To commemorate World Polio Day Oct. 24, San Jose attorney Craig Needham appeared at the Rotary Club of Los Altos meeting to share his family’s history with the disease and to advocate for worldwide polio immunization.
Needham’s mother, Jane Boyle Needham, was a happily married mom of three in 1949. She and her husband had just built their dream home in Palo Alto and were vacationing at Lake Tahoe when her life suddenly changed irreversibly. While swimming in the lake, she contracted the poliovirus. The next day she experienced excruciating pain, drove home and was diagnosed with bulbar polio at age 27, paralyzing her motor nerves from the neck down.
Jane spent the rest of her life in an iron lung. Her husband left, and Needham and his young siblings were sent to foster homes. Despite the hardship, Jane’s story is one of courage and determination to be more than a victim. She vowed to “stop being a polio patient and start being 100% mother.”
With great resilience amid the pain, treatment in several polio wards and around-the-clock care at home, Jane finalized the divorce, regained custody of her children and dictated a book, “Looking Up,” describing their lives as children of a polio victim. She died in 1962.
Thanks to Jane’s love and strength of purpose, her children matured and flourished, which is not the case for many such children, especially in under-resourced countries.
Needham praised his mother’s cheerful spirit and lauded those who supplied her essential needs: skilled nurses, supportive Jesuits, repairmen who serviced the iron lung, firemen who rallied during power outages and a multitude of devoted friends.
Needham’s celebration of his mother’s legacy underscores Rotary International’s commitment to eradicating polio through its PolioPlus campaign to immunize children.
The Salk polio vaccine was licensed in 1955, but many children did not receive it. In 1985, Rotary International launched its PolioPlus campaign to immunize every child in the world. Since the advent of PolioPlus in 1985, types 2 and 3 have been eradicated and now only type 1, wild poliovirus, remains. For 30 years, Rotarians and other volunteers have been traveling at their own expense to countries where the risk of polio infection is highest to administer drops of oral polio vaccine to children.
In addition to the vaccine, Rotarians distribute free wheelchairs to polio victims abroad. Cindy Bogard-O’Gorman, Polio- Plus chairwoman for the Rotary Club of Los Altos, declared that as a result of the Rotary campaign, along with other initiatives, polio is now close to eradication status, which requires three consecutive years without a new case.
This year only two countries have reported polio outbreaks: 77 cases in Pakistan and 19 cases in Afghanistan. According to Needham, medical efforts are hampered in those countries by local cultural norms, distrust of western medicine and warlords opposing eradication efforts by visiting westerners.
Now that the end of polio is in sight, Rotary International launched a three-year PolioPlus Flash Campaign, set to end in 2020. With the goal of raising $50 million, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is matching contributions to the Rotary Foundation – with every dollar matched by two additional dollars – in an effort to entirely eradicate polio.
For more information on the PolioPlus campaign, visit losaltosrotary.org.