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In a room full of fellow Rotarians, Bob Peirce recalled when he contracted polio at 10 years old.
Peirce took part in a panel that discussed people’s past bouts with polio and the importance of eradicating the viral illness at a Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor meeting on Monday at The Heritage Museum & Cultural Center.
When he contracted polio at a young age, Peirce said he was given a spinal tap that required four adults to hold him down.
“They told me if I moved, they would have to start over again. I never forgot the excruciating pain,” he said. “They were not happy memories. You were treated like you had the plague. It’s not something I would wish on anyone.”
He would go on to overcome the illness, but only after a lengthy treatment process and physical therapy.
With Rotary clubs around the world focusing on polio eradication on Thursday – which is recognized as World Polio Day – the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor club listened to details of the international initiative on Monday.
Ed Foster, who serves as the polio chair for Rotary District 6360, updated the local group regarding the effort to eradicate polio.
In 1988, when the Rotary initiative began, the world recorded 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries where polio was endemic.
In 2018, there were 33 cases of wild polio in two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – which represents more than a 99.9 percent reduction in global polio cases. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is still using new approaches aimed at reaching more children, Foster said.
Some are high-tech, such as using geographic information system mapping. Others are less technical, such as deploying boats to deliver vaccines to the remote islands of the Lake Chad region.
In Afghanistan, Rotarians are working with the government and other partners to meet with local leaders to foster community acceptance of the vaccine.
When asked what’s keeping the viral illness around after great strides in medicine, Foster pointed to the relationships between countries and what’s happened in the past.
“We all know what’s going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s politics that’s standing in the way of full eradication,” he said.
Dr. Rick Johansen, Berrien County’s medical director, talked about how he was dragged down to the fire department as a child to get the polio vaccine as soon as it became available.
Johansen said the last known Berrien County case of polio occurred in Coloma during the 1980s.
He also said physicians have had trouble handling the impact of the anti-vaccination movement. However, Johansen said the polio vaccine has not seen as many falsehoods spread, like what the measles vaccine has seen in recent years.
“Dealing with the anti-vaccine message has become one of our biggest jobs,” he said. “Fortunately, Michigan is doing well in terms of the number of people immunized.”
Charles Jespersen, a polio survivor, was 5 years old when his symptoms began to appear.
Luckily, the hospital he was sent to was prepared to handle polio cases. But he would go on to be fastened within an iron lung, in the same room, for nearly thee weeks.
Jespersen said he was released because he wasn’t considered contagious. However, he was later bought back to the hospital for a short period.
Jespersen said he went on to have a regular childhood. However, he has had a slight limp since then, which he can only guess stems from the polio.
“I remember begin brought back in for observation and was put in the iron lung again,” he said. “That probably explains why I’m still so claustrophobic these days.”