In some ways, the fear of polio was as terrifying as the disease itself, with parents overprotecting their children and communities shutting down public venues. When the epidemic in the United States peaked in 1952, polio had struck nearly 58,000 people--mainly children and young adults. The most critically ill were confined to a mechanical ventilator known as an iron lung, robbed of their ability to breathe on their own. Others escaped on crutches, crippled but not paralyzed. Panic was pandemic. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the terror that polio caused at the time.
The initial breakthrough that led to the eventual eradication of polio throughout most of the world is credited to Dr. Salk and his Pitt team of researchers, who developed the first polio vaccine. It was Salk's mentor, Thomas Francis, Jr., of the University of Michigan, who led the nationwide clinical trial of the vaccine that began April 26, 1954, and ended with the greatly anticipated announcement of its results on April 12 the next year. The day was heralded by dramatic headlines, ringing church bells and celebrations that spilled into the streets.
Following is additional information about each event.
Remembering Polio: A Tribute to Pittsburgh's Own Polio Pioneers
Sunday, April 10, 5 7 p.m., University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning Commons Room
Stacy Smith, KDKA-TV anchor and polio survivor, will emcee the event that features Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney; Tenley Albright, M.D., a Harvard University surgeon and researcher who, despite a childhood bout with polio, went on to become a champion figure skater and, in the 1956 Olympics, the first American woman to win a gold medal in her sport; Peter L. Salk, M.D., vice president and scientific director of the Jonas Salk Foundation and t