Letter to Authors from Peter Salk, son of Jonas Salk

Here are some replies Ida, Ella and Andrea:

1.  What three words described your dad?
        Committed, persistent, optimistic.

2.  What was the impact of the Salk vaccine on you?  On your dad?
        The impact of the vaccine on my life has been mixed.  When I was young (I was nine years old when my father's work started getting a lot of attention in 1953 and 11 when the vaccine's success was announced in 1955), there was a lot of excitement and a flurry of activities that were "positive" in the sense that they were sort of adventurous (like getting to meet President Eisenhower).  But it was hard on me because I wasn't able to be "just another kid", and I always felt a bit awkward having people react to my last name.  That less comfortable side of things lasted for quite a while.  Now that I'm older, I feel a sense of responsibility to make sure that things having to do with my father and the history of his work are understood and appreciated in the way I think he would like.  That's both a burden and a privilege; I think the latter outweighs the former.  I believe the effect of the vaccine on my father's life was not dissimilar.  On the one hand, all of the attention he received took up a lot of time and energy that he would have liked to devote to his work.  On the other hand, the recognition provided him with an opportunity to do other things that he really wanted to do -- such as establishing a new Institute, which ended up being called the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (although he hadn't wanted it to bear his name).  My father had a phrase he often used:  "The reward for a job well done is the opportunity to do more."  I think that probably sums up how he saw things with respect to the effect of the polio vaccine on his own life.

3.  What is the most important thing to know about your dad?
     My father wanted to help make the world a better place.  He cared about humanity and about people.  The commitment to understanding how nature functions and to helping the world drove everything he did.  (If you want just one sentence, then use the last of those three.)

I wish all of you a pleasant Winter Break and a happy holiday season.

Peter Salk

Letter to Authors from Lauren Friesen, Polio Victim

Dear Ella, Ida, and Andrea,

Ok, here we go.

1.  How old were you when you contracted polio?  
     7 years and 10 months

2. What happened with your recovery...were you sent to a hospital close by your home or far away?
      I was in Lincoln General Hospital (Lincoln, Nebraska) which was about 1 hour away.   I was there for 3 and a half weeks.

3. How was your family affected by your contracting polio? 
     My parents lived on a farm and so this was very traumatic in a number of ways.  First of all we were poor and did not have insurance. Secondly, this came right in the middle of the fall harvest so my parents had a hard time getting that work done.  Eventually, other farmers helped out as an act of compassion.  My mother stayed in Lincoln the entire time (this is what I recall) during my hospitalization and was in the hospital every morning and afternoon during the limited visiting hours.  She could not enter my room but had to sit in a chair in the hall way.  Now and then I could see her face as she leaned into the door way.  My father, brother and sister were not permitted into the polio wing so I did not seem them for the full hospitalization.  No one else in the family contracted the disease.

4.  What kind of treatment if any did you receive? Did you receive the Sister Kenney method of hot packs and stretching?  Do you think
     it was effective? 

     For the first week, I was sedated (I think) and fed with intravenous fluids and I recall very little.  What I do recall is that now and then, day and night, they would come with what looked like a large, floor model pressure cooker that heated the itchy blankets and I would be rolled over (no muscle exertion on my part was allowed) onto my stomach and then the hot packs would be taken our of the cooker and while still steaming hot placed on my back.  I think this was every 2 hours for that first 2 weeks.  After that week, I was awake during normal hours and I think the sedatives were stopped during daytime.  I don't recall any stretching exercises for these first 2 weeks.  The third week I was moved to a ward that had 16 male patients. I was the youngest and they ages went up into the 40s.  Toward the end of the week, I was taken out of the bed and asked to hold onto a walker (early models) and walk.  I immediately fell down.  All of the men in this room were keenly aware of this and thought I'd never walk again.  So, I was placed in a wheel chair and taken to an indoor swimming pool and with morning and afternoon sessions in the pool the movement in my legs returned.   Movement returned but my legs have been weak ever since.  When I was discharged from the hospital I had physical therapy for 5 years.  Hardly anyone notices now that I have a slight limp but I am still keenly aware of the weakness which requires careful thought prior to walking or standing. Of the 14 men and 2 boys in that room, only 2 of us 'walked' out of the ward on our own power.  The other 14 were unable to walk at all and some were to regain enough movement so that with the aid of crutches or walkers, they were mobile.  A number had deformed legs after that. Was it all effective?  What can I say?  When only 2 out of 14 seem to be normal after the illness, that is not a great success.  Yet, since I was able to walk, maybe in my case it was highly effective.  In the final days in the hospital they taught me the stretching methods.  Sit on the floor with legs spread and touch my knees with my nose.  Pull my feet together so that soles of my feet touched and then lean over and touch my toes with my nose.  Then stand and bend over so that my flat palms could touch the floor.  Five times a day, 5 years.

5. What is the most important thing to know about polio and its impact on you?
    The psychological impact was huge.  It was the one defining event in my youth.  Allow me to explain.  To go through elementary school with the constant awareness that I was no longer really 'normal' was a great factor in causing me to feel marginalized.  At the time, I thought this was a great hurt and burden and, for someone between 7 and 12 it can be.  After all, I didn't know of anyone else who had to go physical therapy just to try to become 'normal' again.  Then, after maturation, I slowly began to realize what a unique perspective this gave me.  Somehow I have a way of understanding others who were marginalized in our society.  I have spent my adult life working for the poor, the oppressed and bringing to light the narratives of those who are marginalized along with the achievements of those who are the typical success stories in our society.  So, along with Lion King and its greatness, I teach a play that made a courageous statement in its day but is now forgotten, Green Pastures.

I hope this is helpful and if you need further clarification, please feel free to write.

Lauren Friesen, PhD
David M. French Professor of Theatre
Department of Theatre and Dance
University of Michigan-Flint
Flint, MI 48502

Letter to Authors from Nancy Leyerzapf, Polio Pioneer

1.  How were you selected to be  a Polio Pioneer?

        I'm not sure I know what you mean with this question.   I had any memories of having been one of the first group of people to take the Salk Vaccine.

2.  What are your memories of being a polio pioneer? 
     My most vivid memory is not being able to go swimming the summer when polio cases were at their height.  Our city swimming pool was closed completely.  We did manage to swim one time in a spring fed pool that my mother felt would be safe--about 30 miles from our home. Since we loved to swim, not having access to a safe pool drove home the message of how dangerous polio was.  Secondly and this is tied to the first memory, I remember hearing stories and seeing pictures of children and adults in iron lungs--awful to think someone had to be in one of those and that many children and adults died.  My third memory was of my mother's concern that my sister and I would contract polio.

3.  Did you have to have three shots?
   I believe it was three shots and then a sugar cube with the vaccine as a booster when in college.

4.  Did your whole school participate or just some of the students?

5.  What difference do you think Salk’s vaccine made in the health of children of the U.S.? 
     It prevented many deaths and "crippling"--that's what my grandma called it.  

6.  What impact did the vaccine have..short term and long term?
      It gave us hope and peace of mind.  It made the world safe again for most children.  No more fear of iron lungs, death, or being "crippled".  We could swim again--important in the eyes of a child.  

7.  What is the most important thing for us to know about Salk and his killed virus vaccine? 
     We should remember that the determination, dedication, and unselfishness  of one man made a monumental difference in the lives of millions of people around the world.

Nancy Leyerzapf

Letter to Authors from Eva Suderman, Polio Victim

1.  When did you contract polio?
     September 1948 at the age of almost 13. I was in the hospital almost three months.

2.  Was there an epidemic of polio the year you got it?
     Yes, it was still during the epidemic years and one floor of the St. Francis Hospital in Wichita was only for polio patients.

3.   What type of treatments did you receive?
     I got the usual hot pack treatments and hot water therapy.

 4.  What impact do you think your having polio had on your life?
     It was a factor in the type of job I could do. Fortunately I liked math and became a secretary/accountant. It made me more sensitive to the needs of others and I still help people through the Internet.

5.  How did the community respond to the polio epidemic?
     I do not recall a community response at the time. I believe there were only two of us in this area with polio in 1948. I did have a hankerchief shower for my birthday in the hospital and still have some of these.

6. What difference do you think Salk’s vaccine made?

7.  What changed because of Salk’s vaccine?
     The fear of polio epidemics was finally gone. Thousands of people have been spared the crippling effects of polio.

Eva Suderman


Letter to Authors from Betty Jane Meyer, Polio Pioneer

1.  What are your memories of being a polio pioneer?

     My father's best friend was President of the  Florida medical Association.  Called him "uncle".  His daughter and I rec'd it first in the State of Florida.  I was only about 7 yrs of age, so just thought it was "cool" that Janie and I were the first ones in Florida.  Now I look back and sort of think my parents were crazy to let me be the guinea pig.  There were certainly no releases or any of that stuff as there might be today with a brand new immunization.

2.  Did you have to have three shots?
Yes, three shots.  Given at a local elementary school.  We were the ONLY ones to receive it for weeks, if I am remembering correctly.  Then everyone started to get them, but mostly from their private doctors where we lived.

3.  Did your whole school participate?
   See above

4.  What difference do you think Salk's vaccine made in the health of children of the U.S.?  What impact did the vaccine have...short term and long term?
      Salk stopped this horrible disease in its tracks.  Prior to that, we were putting kids in "iron lungs" for survival.  Horrible disease with lifelong sequelae.  By the way, Miami Children's Hospital used to have a real iron lung on display.  You might want to contact them for a picture of it. 

5.  What is the most important thing for us to know about Salk and his killed virus vaccine?
     Revolutionized the idea of immunizations for children in the US.  I wish all immunization programs were as successful.

Good Luck in your studies.

Dr. Betty Jane Wendt Mayer

Phone Interview Dec. 16, 2009 with Richard Lichtenstein

This was the largest experiment that was ever done in the US as far as a health care expperement. There were over 3,000,000 kids involved.

When I did thisI had no idea what it was about.  I knew that polio was really a serious problem in the city and the country.  I think I was in second grade when this was happening.  One of the things that was true for kids, I grew up in New York city, my mother would not let me drink from a water fountain.  A couple of times we went to the swimming pool and I couldn't go swimming...my mother was afraid I would get polio.

The number of people who got polio was increasing in the early fifties. The possibility that Jonas Salk was coming up with a vaccine to prevent polio was a very important thing to the parents. The kids didn't really understand that.

As far as I knew my parents signed an approval and at one point in time we all had to go down to the gymnasium and everyone is going to have to get a shot. When I was in school it was a very big school. We might have had nine second grade classes so all of the second graders had to come down one after the other, line up outside the door of the gymnasium, there were very long tables with white table clothes with lots of bottles on them. There were doctors in white coats with nurses with white hats on them.  Kids had to go down and get to the place where they would get the shot. Some would be crying and some would be pulling away. They would get a lollipop at the end.  I saw all these kids going past these white tables and then I went and I think we had to get a series of three shots. We had to do this three different times.  One of the times, the needle was much bigger than they are now..and the syringes were glass. When they gave me one of the shots, the glass broke so all of the vaccine went on my arm and on the floor.  I had to sit there for an hour while they figured out what to do about my shot.  I didn't know why I had to wait so long. They didn't know if they had given me the vaccine or the control.  They had to find out if I got the vaccine and which to give me.

I remember thinking what a jerk this doctor was because he broke it off on my arm. The whole bottle thing broke. That wasn't supposed to happen.  We had to do this three times .  No one knew if they got the vaccine or the placebo or water.  We waited several months and that was when they calculated whether people who got the vaccine got polio at a lower rate and those who got the placebo got it.

I am at the University of Michigan and that is where they made the announcement.  It was the big announcement with fifty microphones set up.  Jonas Salk was here. The epidemiologist, Thomas Francis Jr. who did the study made this announcement.  It was on the front page of every newspaper in the country that the Salk vaccine worked  

The final part of my experiment and my mother was showing me a letter that said thanks for participating in the Salk trial and you got the placebo so you have to get three more shots all over again.  I think because we participated in the trials we were the first ones to actually get the vaccine.

I got the shot later probably in 1955.  I thought, “Oh no I have to go get another three different shots.”

During the time of these trials, there were kids who got shots that were not the real shots and they got polio.  If they had gotten the vaccine, they wouldn't have gotten polio...but it proved that it did work.  I could have gotten polio. That is a hard ethical issue to deal with...people had to get sick to prove that it didn't work.

I think it had a giant impact.  I told you how frightened people were for their kids.  Kids were frightened because you could see kids in iron lungs.  It is a horrible thing.  Kids were stuck in those iron lungs for months.  Some hospitals where they had twenty iron lungs in one big room and that was horrible.  That was very scary.  The impact was enormous. The relief that the parents felt was dramatic.  It let kids do things in the summer again that they couldn't have done before.

Nobody knew how people got polio.  Had an impact world wide.  It decreased the number of people who had polio.  Later they had the Sabin vaccine which you took by mouth. Which I also had to go through.  They put it on a sugar cube and just ate it.  It really knocked the number of people who got polio down around the world.

I am not sure how I was selected.  I didn't know then but I can tell you now that what happened they probably picked certain cities or all the big cities and other parts of the country that would be participating in the trials and selected the schools in those cities.  It was just so happened that my school was picked and I was in second grade so I was going to participated.  Everybody was doing it.  It was random sampling of a representation of all the schools.

The reason it took me a hour I think they actually had to call by to the place to School of Public at University of Michiian and see if I had the placebo or the real vaccine.

To prove that it was really the vaccine or some other treatment, was that they didn't let the doctors or the patients know if they were really getting the vaccine or the placebo. The doctors didn't even know what they were giving me.  They had to bring extra vials and the control and make sure I got the right one after the glass bottle broke.  I didn't think too highly of the doctors at the time.

Salk vaccine made a big difference for a couple of years.  It was later replaced by the Sabin vaccine because it was easier to give out. There were some incidences where the Salk vaccine gave people polio.  But like I said everyone felt more safe because they weren't worried about their kids getting polio.  Kids were more active.  Parents were less worried about the health of their kids.  The fact you couldn't see what it was and it could be lurking and it could totally change your kid's life was a big deal.

An example I can give you in the difference Salk's made is that when I ask a class, “How many of you woke up and worried that you might end up in an iron lung?”  Everyone now looks at me like I am crazy. That is an amazing change from when I was a child to now.”

Nobody is getting polio.

There are still a few places that have polio but most parts of the world people don't get polio. The fact it doesn't happen doesn't make as big of a splash but that is a major change.  That is what public health is all about.

A stamp was issued in 2005 so the US produced a postage stamp and there is a big copy on the wall where I am teaching.  It is a picture of a doctor giving a little girl a shot.

It was a total revolution about how people felt about everything.  It was the scariness about polio.  It was that you couldn't walk you couldn't breath. Those were horrible things for parents to think about for their kid.  If you were a healthy kid that was very scary.

 Letter to Authors from Gary Presley, Polio Survivor

1.  What impact did polio have on your life?
     I was paralyzed in 1959. Then there were limited services and limited access for people with disabilities. With that, my life was restricted. For example, I wanted to join the military, but of course, that became impossible. I was also socially isolated. Few businesses or homes were built for wheelchair access. That made it almost impossible to go to a friend's party or other such activity. Finally, to have a visible physical disability sometimes gives some people the impression that you are ill and thus incapable of going to school or working at a job. It was difficult many times to convince people that I deserved the same chance as a person who didn't use a wheelchair.

 2.  When did you contract polio and what happened?
     I contracted polio in 1959, apparently because of a bad batch of Salk polio vaccine. I took the final inoculation and seven days later came down with both types of polio (bulbar and lumbar). While there were reports of contaminated viruses in the early history of the Salk vaccine, it may also be possible that something in my own physical make-up cause the vaccine accident. I spent several weeks in an iron lung, then using other respiratory devices, and after six months in a rehabilitation center, I was sent home. It took about two years for me to regain enough strength to be able to work full-time. During that two years, I finished high school (at home, since the local school wasn't wheelchair accessible) and took several college correspondence courses.

3. What difference or what impact do you think the Salk vaccine had?
     It would be very easy to be bitter about what happened to me, but I feel that the Salk vaccine saved many, many lives and prevented many people from being paralyzed. An isolated "accident" like mine is irrelevant when compared to the greater good. Modern medicine has done wonders for the world, especially those of us in the developed portion. If we think of all the diseases that modern medicine has (almost) eliminated, I think polio was one of the most important. Many organizations are now working to make that same progress in other parts of the world.

4. What is the most important thing to know about polio?
     It is important to remember that polio still strikes many people in lesser developed portions of our world. Everyone who contracts polio will deal with its effects for the remainder of their lives. It is also important to remember that polio is a disease, but it is not a lifelong illness. People paralyzed with polio are still people with the same hopes and dreams and ambitions that other people have. It is important that society provide education, access, and employment opportunities for everyone with a physical or mental disability.

Letter to Authors from Dr. Gene Klinger