Tell us what you remember
of the impact of polio:
My father was L. Dale Emmert. He was born on a farm north of
Redfield, Iowa, on February 9, 1909. When he was 19 months old,
he was stricken with infantile paralysis, now known as polio. He
was treated by a Dr. Criley who at one point pronounced him dead.
Someone, however noticed a spark of life and that spark was
rekindled and my father lived well into his 80's. For about 40 of
those years he was actively engaged in farming. I do not know how
he was treated or what parts of his body were initially affected.
The affects that I know were on the right side of his face and
his right shoulder. The muscles on the right side of his face
were weakened and that side kind of drooped and he could not
completely close his right eye. His smile was crooked as a result
as well. The inability to completely close his eye caused him a
lot of grief on the farm because of the dust. His eye would water
a great deal as one can imagine. When plastic surgery was
developed, he had some work done on the eye which helped, but did
not completely eliminate the problem. His right shoulder also
drooped and that made it difficult for him to be fitted with suit
coats. A tailor would have to put extra padding in the right
shoulder to make it even with the left one. To my knowledge,
there was not a difference in strength between his right and left
arms or legs for that matter.
My father lived with the physical effects of polio most of his
life. In addition to the physical problems there were the
emotional or psychological affects. When he was young, adults
felt sorry for him, and his parents to some extent, but were
happy, of course, that he survived. In his senior years, he was
very self conscious about his drooping face. Occasionally
children in their innocence would point at him and ask their
parents what was wrong with that man. In his later years he
became somewhat reclusive and the effects of polio may have been
a major reason.
One might think that because of my father's experience, my
parents would have been especially protective of me as I grew up.
I was born in 1942 and believe I can recall the celebration
surrounding the development of the vaccines. I know that I took
the full course of the oral vaccine, but I do not recall that I
was restricted by my parents from crowds, etc, during the years
when there were the biggest scares. One could have understood if
they had been a bit paranoid about polio in those years. A boy in
our church who was a couple of years older than I got polio. He
survived but had a lasting speech problem. Many believed that the
great amount of time that church members spent on their knees
praying for him made the difference. I'm sure our congregation
was far from unique in that respect and the deaths of so many
children tested the faith of lots of people.
I imagine that the development of the Salk vaccine was considered
by many to be the answer to their prayers. Regardless of how it
came to be, because of the tremendous number of lives it saved,
the development of the polio vaccine must certainly be considered
to be one of the major accomplishments of biological science.