Ravages of polio
Polio quietly preyed on thousands of young Canadians. The disease caused paralysis, deformed limbs and in the most severe cases, death by asphyxiation. In Canada, polio was so feared that as recently as the 1950s, it closed schools, emptied streets and banned children under 16 from entering churches and theatres. In 1955 it looked as though a miraculous polio vaccine signalled an end to new cases of the crippling disease. But a recent medical condition known as post-polio syndrome has survivors reliving the sequel to this once-forgotten nightmare.
The polio virus thrives in polluted water.
In the past when poor sanitation and open sewage were the norm, constant exposure meant people developed a natural immunity to polio. Ironically when sanitation improved, the virus became more lethal. As shown in this clip, polio survivors had to endure awkward braces and painful exercises.
In the most severe cases, patients were placed inside an iron lung, a medieval-looking contraption that helped victims breathe.
A patient's entire body, except the head, was sealed inside these "metal monsters," sometimes for months at a time.
• In the summer of 1921, polio struck Franklin D. Roosevelt, future president of United States. It happened on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, where the Roosevelts kept a summer home. Roosevelt was 39 when polio crippled his legs.
• Having endured the ravages of polio firsthand, Roosevelt established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938. The foundation's mission was to find a cure for polio.
• The foundation's campaign gained notoriety when radio celebrity Eddie Cantor coined the phrase, "March of Dimes." He urged the public to send dimes to the White House. March of Dimes later became part of the official name of the foundation.
• FDR's father was one of the first to build a summer home on Campobello Island. Throughout his life, FDR maintained a close affinity to Canada.
• In 1921, FDR almost died in Canada because officials initially refused to admit him back into the U.S. because he had polio.
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: 1938-01-01
Last updated: January 25, 2012
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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