The Polio Crusade
In the summer of 1950 Wytheville, VA realized the nation's worst medical fears. An outbreak of Infantile Paralysis, commonly known as Polio, swept through a small town of 5,500 in which 40 percent of residents had not yet reached their eighteenth birthday. Highly contagious, just in time for summer vacation, the devastating neurodegenerative disease had chosen its next target.
(children laughing and chattering)
NARRATOR: The summer of 1950 started like most summers
in the small town of Wytheville, Virginia.
School let out, the town pools opened,
and kids flocked to the soda fountain on Main Street.
Almost 40% of the town's 5,500 residents
were under the age of 18.
JOHN M. JOHNSON: Wytheville was
more or less a lazy-type, laid-back town.
Everyone knew everyone.
It got really hot in the summertime,
and we would go swimming.
We were happy-go-lucky kids.
ELEANOR SAGE:I had a pair of my grandfather's rubber boots on
and I was wading in the creek.
And when I went to get out,
I felt like something pulled in my leg.
I went home
and hadn't been home too long
till I started running a temperature
and was real nauseous, and just kept going higher and higher.
BETTY COOK BROWN: I was outside playing.
I just didn't feel right.
By the time I got inside the house to my mother,
I told her I was sick.
I had a headache.
I was so dizzy.
And after that, I just passed out.
ANNE B. CROCKETT-STARK: The doctor came to do a spinal tap on my brother,
and he screamed.
And my mother ran downstairs with a bed pillow,
went out in the backyard andcovered her head with a pillow,
and laid there and screamed.
EUGENE F. WARREN: We only had two ambulance services in Wytheville.
One would come into the clinic with a suspected case
while the other one would be coming out of the clinic
and leaving for either Roanoke or Richmond.
In, out; in, out; in, out; in, out.
Mr. Williams' tote board
was right across the street from where I worked,
and it was always visible,
and every once in a while,
we'd go to the front door and look out.
Every time another one came in with the diagnosis,
well, they changed the count.
CROCKETT-STARK: Daddy and Mama took everything Sonny owned--
all of his clothes, his bed, his chest of drawers,
and he had a fabulous comic book collection.
And they took everything out to the middle of the garden,
and they just made a pileand burned everything he owned.
They were told to do that so that we would not get it.
NARRATOR: Polio was hitting Wytheville hard--
harder that year than any place in the country.
WARREN:It became more and more evident
that we were really in trouble,
and without knowing what to do or how to stop it
or how to get away from it.
We were just stuck with it.
You just couldn't pick up everybody and leave,
and you couldn't set the whole town on fire.
So it was a... it was almost...
not hopeless, but it was getting pretty close that way.
NARRATOR: Since the turn of the 20th century,
polio, also known as infantile paralysis, had become
an increasingly menacing fact of American life.
Highly contagious, the polio virus
tended to strike during the summer.
SAMUEL L. KATZ: It was very reliable.
Come June, July,
you began to see cases of polio,
and they continued on through September.
NARRATOR: The symptoms ranged from a mild headache and nausea
to muscle weakness, paralysis, or death.
KATHRYN BLACK:One never knew how it would go.
Would it pass through the body
and the person would get up out of bed
a few days later, just fine?
Would there be one leg damaged?
Would both arms?
JULIUS YOUNGNER: The paralytic effects would last for life.
And you didn't have to look very far
to see people who had been crippled with polio,
and crippled in terrible ways.
NARRATOR: In 1921, the disease struckan especially prominent citizen
just as his political star was on the rise.
Polio usually targeted children,
but Franklin Delano Roosevelt was 39.
After contracting a sudden fever and chills,
he lost the use of both his legs.
BLACK: FDR was
an enormous landmark in the whole history of polio.
The fact that he came down with polio
changed the course of the disease in this country.
NARRATOR: Roosevelt worked to restore both his body and his career.
He bought a remote Georgia resort
whose spring-fed baths were reputed to have healing powers
and turned it into theGeorgia Warm Springs Foundation,
committed to rehabilitating polio patients
from around the country.
In 1928, a still-paralyzed but vital FDR fought his way back
onto the national political stage.
To keep the fight against polio alive,
Roosevelt turned tohis law partner, Basil O'Connor,
a man who knew little about polio,
but a great deal about power and persuasion.
"I was never a public do-gooder," O'Connor declared,
"and had no aspirations of that kind."
Short-tempered and relentless,he was a working-class Irishman
who had to dig and fight for everything he had achieved.
DAVID M. OSHINSKY: Basil O'Connor has no interest
in being the head of the Warm Springs Foundation.
But he is so loyal to Franklin Roosevelt,
and he really believes
the only way to ensure FDR's political career
is to take over this institutionthat is so close to FDR's heart.
NARRATOR: With Roosevelt now in the White House,
O'Connor worked tirelessly to keep the organization afloat.
America was experiencing the worst economic depression
in its history.
Charities' traditional source of funding,
donations from the rich, had completely dried up.
Worse still, the number of cases of polio continued to rise.
OSHINSKY:What made polio so questionable,
what made it so hard for people to get a grip on,
was that at the very time America was becoming
a cleaner, more antiseptic society,
the polio rates were going up dramatically.
NARRATOR:In time, scientists would unlock some of polio's mysteries.
They would learn the virus entered the body
through the mouth;
that it passed from person to person
through contaminated water, food, or physical contact.
They would come to understand that modern sanitation
actually helped explain the prevalence of the disease.
Infants in clean environments
were less likely to be exposed to the virus
and develop life-long immunity.
PAUL A. OFFIT: Before improvements in sanitation,
all children were born with antibodies against polio.
When we had improved sanitation,
children started to become exposed to polio
later and later in life,
at a time when those antibodies
they had received from theirmother had already disappeared.
And that's why you saw an emergence of the disease.
NARRATOR: In 1938, O'Connor didn't knowmuch about the science of polio.
What he did know was that polio patients depended
on private charities like his, not the government, for help.
Without a new way to raise money,
his foundation could offer little more than hope.
It was time, he decided, to try something bold.
MAN ON RADIO:The only way to fight infantile paralysis is with money.
And so I'm asking you tonight to send a dime
to President Roosevelt at the White House.
NARRATOR: Enlisting celebrities to the cause,
O'Connor made an unprecedented appeal
to the American public.
Judy, when I spend a dime on myself
for some little luxury like this,
I always think about those unfortunate kids,
how far just a dime will go toward helping.
we don't know howlucky we are
and how much we haveto be thankful for
with our healthand our happiness.
Judy, that's why...
NARRATOR: The campaign was dubbed the March of Dimes.
Can I put a dimein your envelope?
Oh, you know that you can.
And that's what every good American should do.
Join the March of Dimes.
Send yours to President Franklin Roosevelt in the White House.
NARRATOR:O'Connor waited anxiously to see if his gamble would pay off.
The March of Dimes campaign exceeded all expectations,
raising $1.8 million,
a staggering sum.
OSHINSKY: What O'Connor realized was
that this was a fundraising gold mine.
This turns fundraising on its head.
You no longer want big donations from the few.
You want small donations from the millions.
No one is too poor to give a dime
to help a kid walk again.
NARRATOR: O'Connor pledged
to provide care for every polio patient in America.
To pay for doctors, nurses,
and the most up-to-date rehabilitation.
He would even invest in scientific research
aimed at stopping polio forever.
OSHINSKY:Basil O'Connor was no scientist,
but he was a great administrator.
He knew how to organize, he knew how to centralize,
he knew how to focus.
NARRATOR: Every summer, more and more children were infected
O'Connor understood that he was in a race against time.
(children laughing and chattering)
LARRY BECKER: I was very active and outgoing
and grew up in a time and a place
when kids had lots of independence
and minimal supervision.
Just a few inflexible rules, like "be home for dinner."
I was 13, and I was just starting to lean out
and get kind of fast on the tennis court,
and I was pretty happywith the way things were going.
NARRATOR: Larry Becker grew up in Hastings, Nebraska.
He was a Boy Scout, delivered newspapers,
and played trumpet in the school band.
BECKER: My legs gave out
as I was pedaling my ice cream cart home for lunch.
NARRATOR: Larry became delirious with fever
as the polio virus penetrated his central nervous system,
infecting and destroying the nerve fibers
that controlled his muscles.
BECKER: It's like every muscle in your body
is extremely sore.
It's very sensitive to the touch, and just aches.
I lost not only my leg muscles,
but I lost also neck muscles
and, most importantly, the diaphragm.
I began to have trouble breathing.
And I remember the last straw for me
was when I lost the use of my biceps.
I was afraid of... not so much of pain,
but of loss of control.
My parents were in and out of the room.
They were being given very bad news.
There wasn't much hope that I was going to survive.
(film projector clicking)
FILM NARRATOR: You've never seen me,
but I'm sure you've seen my shadow.
I'm never invited,
but I've been an invisible guest
in practically every kind of home.
This is what I've been looking for.
NARRATOR: To keep up the fundraising momentum,
O'Connor shifted tactics.
FILM NARRATOR: As you probably know,
I'm very fond of children, especially little children.
I have no prejudices.
I'm quite impartial.
NARRATOR:The March of Dimes' new message was a frightening one:
polio could strike anyone, anytime.
YOUNGNER: You went to a movie
and there was a little short subject about polio.
Memorial Hospital, please.
YOUNGNER: They would pass a cup row by row,
something to put whatever change you had in it.
Polio was brought home every day
to families all over the United States.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR:In New York, the March of Dimes campaign
is inspired by Basil O'Connor,
Jimmy Durante, Larry and Barry Pellitteri.
During the past few years,
the polio epidemic has beenon the increase and continues...
MAN ON LOUDSPEAKER: Fight polio tonightwith your porch lights at 7:00.
NARRATOR: The campaign worked.
The March of Dimes grew to 3,000 local chapters,
creating a network that reached millions and raised millions--
by the late 1940s,
as much as $22 million per year.
But O'Connor's campaign told only part of the story.
While polio could be devastating,
the chances of contractingan acute case were quite small;
of being paralyzed, smaller still;
of dying from polio, extremely remote.
Many more Americans died from car accidents or tuberculosis.
OSHINSKY: What the March of Dimes did
was to turn an awful but relatively uncommon disease
into our national disease and our national crusade.
Basil O'Connor's feeling was:
We've got to raise money for this.
The best way you raise money
was basically to scare the hell out of the American public.
It's hard to imagine today, I think,
how pervasive the fear was
and how embedded in the American psyche.
NARRATOR: The fear overwhelmed common sense.
Every summer, in Wytheville
and hundreds of towns across the country,
people took extraordinary measures to avoid polio.
They even sprayed the pesticide DDT,
despite the fact scientists had proved
flies did not spread the virus.
WARREN: Not knowing which way to turn, what's causing it,
people looked for all sorts of places to put the blame.
Some of them were ludicrous and some of them weren't.
STARK:Daddy said people just rolled up their car windows
and put bandanas around their faces
and zoomed through our town.
We didn't go on Main Street.
We didn't go anywheres near town during the polio epidemic.
For the longest time, no one would bother to call, come,
or get anywhere near our house.
They were afraid.
They didn't want to catch polio.
They didn't want my mother and daddy
to come in some of the stores.
They just didn't want them around.
STARK: People did as little as possible, isolated themselves,
and just prayed they wouldn't get it.
NARRATOR: In 1949, O'Connor took the campaign against polio
to a new level.
For more than a decade,
scientists funded by the March of Dimes
had focused on developing
the only viable solution to stop polio-- a vaccine.
Now, O'Connor declared,
the long-awaited miracle was "in sight."
His message raised hopes, and dimes, from an anxious public.
But within the scientific community,
there was a very different reaction.
A vaccine, most researchers believed,
was still years away,
if it worked at all.
(bicycle bell chimes)
BLACK:We lived in this little housing development in Phoenix.
It was young families everywhere,
and the population was just booming.
Couples just like my family-- father back from the war,
mother had had a careerand let it go to have children.
I was four years old, my brother was six, my parents were 28.
Life was pretty simple, pretty happy.
And then one day,
my mother came down with a backache.
And the doctor examined her,
and my father remembers the doctor saying,
"I think she has polio, but don't worry.
"It doesn't look like a serious case.
"But we have to put her in the contagious ward,
where she'll be isolated."
And things only got much, much worse from there.
She survived that night.
But she was paralyzed from the neck down.
I have no memory of her going away.
She disappeared overnight.
We went to bed one night andour mother was in the next room.
We woke up the next morning and she was gone.
(ship's horn blares)
NARRATOR: In 1951, two years after his promise
of an imminent polio vaccine, O'Connor had little to show.
(ship's horn blaring)
Then, in September,
traveling home from a conference in Europe,
he met a scientist as driven and impatient as O'Connor himself.
Jonas Salk was a 36-year-old researcher
at the University of Pittsburgh.
YOUNGNER: He was somebody who had great confidence in himself.
"Ambitious" is too mild a word.
He was super-ambitious.
JOHN TROAN: He was very aggressive on what he was doing.
When I first met him, he looked very intense
and he remained that way.
I mean, never changed.
Real intensive personality.
NARRATOR: O'Connor and Salk hit it off right away.
PETER L. SALK:Their personalities just meshed.
Both shared big dreams, they shared big goals,
and they saw in each other someone who was complementary.
NARRATOR:Salk's big goals included plans
for an unorthodox polio vaccine.
Up until now, leading-edge polio researchers had focused
on making a vaccine from a live virus,
like the vaccines for yellow fever and smallpox--
a complex and time-consuming process.
YOUNGNER: Live virus vaccines were
the gold standard of virus vaccine.
The whole scientific community of experts
said that the only vaccine that would work for polio
would be a live vaccine.
NARRATOR: Jonas Salk disagreed.
His experience developing a flu vaccine told him
that a killed virus vaccine
was both possible and faster to produce.
OSHINSKY: Salk had been trained
to believe with influenza and other viruses
that if you took the virus
and you killed it
and injected it into someone's arm,
you could trick the body's immune system
into believing that an invader had come,
and the body would produce
strong and lasting antibody protection.
NARRATOR: Proponents of the live virus vaccine
dismissed Salk's ideas
as ill-conceived scientific heresy...
Most notably, Albert Sabin.
KATZ: Dr. Sabin had already established a reputation
as a sound and imaginative, innovative investigator.
He was a little bit bombastic.
He was a little bit intolerant of other people's ideas.
He was always convinced that his own were correct
and most of the time he was right.
OSHINSKY: Albert Sabin had been working for
a number of years on his live virus vaccine.
Sabin believed that his vaccine was the perfect polio vaccine.
He also knew that it would take longer to develop,
and the constant conflict he had with Basil O'Connor
was over time.
"I need the time to perfect my vaccine."
Basil O'Connor wanted everything done now.
Albert Sabin simply believed
that science went by its own clock
and that the March of Dimes should wait
until his vaccine was ready.
NARRATOR: Salk was a mere "kitchen chemist,"
Sabin would say,
whose hasty work posed alurking danger to human health.
But Basil O'Connor didn't listen.
Salk's lab would become
a leading recipient of March of Dimes support.
OSHINSKY: What made Basil O'Connor
so strong about Jonas Salk
was that O'Connor finallybelieved he had met a scientist
who understood that kids were dying every day
and that speed was important.
YOUNGNER: Jonas was swimming against the current.
He was a young whippersnapper who came out of nowhere
and suddenly is taking on this responsibility,
and not only that, but getting the support
of Basil O'Connor,
because Jonas convinced Basil O'Connor
that we were going to do it.
NARRATOR: At his lab at the University of Pittsburgh,
Salk's race to find a polio vaccine took off.
KATZ: Dr. Salk's laboratory was like a factory
in that he had a large number of people.
They were all doing what he dictated they do.
In contrast, many laboratories were
more interested in expanding scientific perspective
and not necessarily as goal driven.
NARRATOR:The pressure he put on his staff was unrelenting.
"Salk thought big," one colleague observed.
"He wanted to leap, not crawl."
YOUNGNER: This was a heavily, heavily financed, expensive project.
We used thousands of monkeys.
We had resources beyond those
that any of the other researchers had.
OSHINSKY:He almost immediately could see
that his killed virus vaccine, at least in animals,
was very, very successful.
His tests with monkeys were extraordinary.
They had high antibody levels.
None of them seemed to get polio.
He knew he was on the track of something very important.
NARRATOR: With the success of his trials on monkeys,
Salk pressed for the next necessary but risky step--
to test his vaccine in humans.
O'Connor eagerly agreed.
But Sabin issued a warning-- Salk was moving too quickly.
His plan posed a serious threat to innocent lives.
O'Connor ignored Sabin's objections.
Salk's human trials would proceed as planned.
On July 2, 1952, assisted by the staff
at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children,
Jonas Salk injected 43 children with his killed virus vaccine.
KATZ: The idea of going into institutions
where there were children who were damaged
by various diseases and using
or exploiting them as subjects for these studies
was not regarded in the same way it is today.
OSHINSKY: There was no real sense
of what we would call informed consent.
If you wanted to test, as Jonas Salk did,
you went to the director of an orphanage,
or what was called a home for the feeble-minded,
and you tested.
NARRATOR: A few weeks after the Watson tests,
Salk injected children
at the Polk State School forthe Retarded and Feeble-Minded.
Then he administered the vaccine to his family
and received a shot himself.
No one got polio.
Blood tests showed that like his lab monkeys,
his human subjects had elevated levels
of polio-fighting antibodies.
A vaccine, Salk believed, was within reach.
1952 saw the outbreak ofAmerica's worst polio epidemic.
More and more older children and adults
were contracting the disease.
The older you were, the greater the risk
of paralysis or death.
Hospital wards were crowded with machines
that helped paralyzed patients breathe.
They were called iron lungs.
My father came in
to explain to me that they wanted
to put me in the iron lung.
And simultaneously one was moved into my room.
It's a huge piece of equipment, and looked scary,
and I didn't know what it meant.
Your head is disconnected from your body.
You can't see your body.
And in my case, I couldn't move anything at first.
And I was very uncomfortable
because of the pain in my muscles.
You have to get used to the fact
that you don't control your respiration rate.
And when you're first put in--
at least it was the case for me--
since I was struggling so much to breathe,
I just relaxed right into it.
(machine expelling air)
BLACK:The development of the iron lung
was a great scientific advancement in medical care.
It saved plenty of lives.
It certainly saved my mother's life,
but it also was its own terrible existence.
My mother was flat on her back,
being breathed by a machine,
tended by people through little portholes
on the side of the machine,
seeing nothing of the world
except what she could seethrough a mirror above her face.
(machine expelling air, voices echoing in distance)
What happens to your mind day after day,
night after night?
(machine expelling air, voices echoing in distance)
NARRATOR: For most, the iron lung was
a temporary measure to help them survive
during themost acute phase of the disease.
For others, it was permanent.
Hello there,this is a wonderful day for me.
Five minutes out of my iron lung.
Five minutes out of my little prison...
my kind and friendly prison.
BECKER: The first time I got out of the iron lung,
I saw the doctor cry because of the difficulties
I was having on the bed.
That was a shock.
And that soon turned into a kind of...
uh, self-disgust, I think, or shame,
which I didn't articulate, but, um...
I just wanted to hide.
I was 13 years old-- I thought I was immortal.
I don't ever remember being afraid that I would die.
I was afraid I wouldn't get better.
NARRATOR: Surveys showed that apart from the atomic bomb,
Americans' greatest fear was polio.
BLACK: People had put up with polio for a really long time,
and they wanted it over.
They wanted it done with.
The American public wanted that vaccine.
(car horn honking)
NARRATOR: On November 16, 1953,
Basil O'Connor made a stunning announcement.
The March of Dimes would finance, plan, and coordinate
an unprecedented human experiment,
testing Salk's vaccine
on hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren.
Reaction from within the scientific community
Injecting Salk's vaccine, Albert Sabin warned,
might cause polio, not prevent it.
Sabin was very aggressive.
And he could be very abrasive.
He was trying everything to postpone the field trial,
to downgrade the Salk vaccine.
He said, "This vaccine isn't ready to be tested.
"We should wait five more years.
We should wait ten more years."
NARRATOR: O'Connor refused to wait.
With another polio season looming,
he would let nothing stop the trials.
"This is one of the most important projects
in medical history," he wrote
to parents across the country.
"We feel sure you'll want your child to take part."
(children shouting playfully)
BLACK: As a parent today, it's unimaginable
that I would be one of those people pushing my child
to the front of the line, saying, you know,
"Put the polio vaccine in my child first,
and let's see if it works."
OSHINSKY: You are asking the parents of America
to line up their kids for a vaccine
that no one is sure how well it works,
and no one is certain that it is perfectly safe.
It has really not been tested that much on humans.
This is an enormous leap of faith.
NARRATOR: On April 26, 1954,
the March of Dimes began field trials.
a six-year-old in McLean, Virginia,
was the first to receive Salk's vaccine.
By June, nearly two million children had taken part.
It was the largest humanexperiment in American history.
Parents would have to wait for nearly a year
to learn the results.
On the morning of April 12, 1955,
the March of Dimes made their announcement.
TROAN: There was a build-up
to the report on the field trial.
Everybody was interested.
Everybody was waiting, waiting, waiting.
Does it work? Does it work?
BLACK: There was no bigger story at that time.
It was held in secrecy
like no state secret ever could be.
This news was awaited around the world.
NARRATOR: A press release would reveal the findings
everyone was waiting for.
TROAN: They were going to bring it up on an elevator.
The press room was overcrowded.
We were elbow to elbow.
The public relations man
steps off the elevator with the dolly
and he can't move into the press room.
Everybody ganging around him.
Guys were jumping over desks.
The fellow climbed up on the dolly
and he began flinging these things out left and right.
It was bedlam.
(typewriters clacking, chiming)
ANNOUNCER (over radio): CBS News presents
a special report.
REPORTER (over radio): The Salk polio vaccine
is a success.
The vaccine works.
NARRATOR: Factory whistles blew,
school children cheered,
(kids cheering, shouting joyously)
TROAN: Everybody was so happy.
It was the most satisfying story I would cover
in 44 years in journalism.
PETER L. SALK: The relief that was brought about
by all of a sudden having something that could be done
to stop this, it was...
I think that was just overwhelming.
OFFIT: Jonas Salk was viewed as an American hero.
This awful disease
had now been conquered by this man who we had funded, who...
this scientist who was us.
OSHINSKY: This vaccine vindicated
20 years of giving dimes,
20 years of volunteering.
It was a victory for millions of faceless people
who had done what they could to end the scourge of polio.
NARRATOR: Five years before,
the disease had raged through Wytheville.
Now the community,
like thousands of others across the country,
would finally receive the vaccine.
I remember hearing about Dr. Salk, Dr. Salk,
and how exciting it was.
That man saved the world from polio.
NARRATOR: Less than a month after vaccinations began,
the nation's triumphant polio crusade
was brought to a screeching halt.
As surgeon general of the Public Health Service,
I recommended the day before yesterday
that vaccination programs against poliomyelitis
be temporarily postponed.
NARRATOR:Thousands of children vaccinated
with the new Salk vaccine had become sick.
Hundreds would be permanently paralyzed.
A handful would even die.
OSHINSKY: We have gone
from this amazing situation of euphoria,
a disease on the run,
to the vaccine itself producing additional cases of polio.
All polio vaccine is taken off the market
until the government can pinpoint
exactly what has gone wrong.
NARRATOR: Investigators soon learned
that all the sick children had been injected
with a bad batch of vaccine made in Berkeley, California.
After a hasty and poorly staffed government screening process,
the vaccine had been deemed safe.
In fact, it had contained virulent live polio virus.
Cutter Laboratories wasn't alone.
All the pharmaceutical companies were having difficulties
mass-producing Salk's formula.
One scientist, especially, felt vindicated--
OSHINSKY: Sabin had always been of the mind
that not only was the Salk vaccine not effective
but potentially was unsafe.
After Cutter,Albert Sabin simply went around
to anyone who would ask-- and many people did--
saying, "I told you so."
NARRATOR: Despite the crisis,
O'Connor's confidence in Salk's vaccine never faltered.
REPORTER: What do you see for its future?
Well, I can only say to you that I see its future
is still a good, sound, safe vaccine
that will protect the people.
OFFIT: The Salk vaccine was licensed at a time
when we basically didn't have vaccine regulation
in this country.
The government learned
that having ten people oversee vaccines--
and, frankly, doing it on a part-time basis--
was not good enough.
The Cutter incident was a painful lesson
about the fact that we needed much better oversight.
NARRATOR: In the wake of the tragedy,
manufacturing standards would be tightened
and government regulation increased.
But, only eight days after
the surgeon general announced a halt,
the nation's polio vaccination program resumed.
Americans continued to vaccinate their children.
They had waited years for the polio vaccine.
They were not about to wait any longer.
(marching band playing, people cheering)
The nation's polio vaccination program,
led by the March of Dimes,
now supported by the United States government,
proved safe and overwhelmingly effective.
Within just a few seasons,
the number of polio cases in the United States
decreased by 50%.
Memories of summers filled with fear began to fade.
Albert Sabin's live virus vaccine was finally ready.
An oral vaccine, it was easier to administer
and cheaper to produce than Salk's.
The years to come would see the scientific efforts
of both Salk and Sabin pay off dramatically.
Polio, once one of America's most feared diseases,
became largely a thing of the past.
BLACK: Nobody cared about polio anymore.
It was over.
My mother, coming home from the rehab center,
it is not the story of triumph and conquering.
It is the story of defeat.
After a year of treatment, it didn't fix her.
It didn't fix our family.
Our family had disintegrated around her.
NARRATOR: When Kathryn Black was six years old,
her mother died.
Larry Becker spent two-and-a-half years
in the hospital.
He learned to breathe on his own
by using the muscles in his neck.
His arms remained paralyzed,
but after slowly regaining the use of his legs,
he was finally ready to move home.
BECKER: There were three steps up to the house,
and then my bedroom would be upstairs.
This is the '50s.
If your bedroom was going to be upstairs,
then you had to learn to climb the steps.
When I graduated from college,
and when I got my Ph.D.,
local newspapers published a picture of me
writing with my feet.
I don't know what the headline is exactly.
I always think of it as "Polio Boy Makes Good,"
you know, that kind of...
And I thought, "Whoa,
this is going to follow me for the rest of my life."
But, you know, here I am whining.
It's not... it's no big deal.
NARRATOR: In 1994,
44 years after the epidemic hit Wytheville, Virginia,
and nearly 60 years after Basil O'Connor
first called upon Americans
to send their dimes to the White House,
polio was declared eradicated in the United States.