Polio victims of the past

Surviving a childhood disease

By Jill Fennema –

The controversy over how many immunizations children should have has been going on for several years now. Perhaps those who are opposed to all immunizations do not know how debilitating some of the old childhood illnesses were.

Some people with memories of contracting a cruel childhood illness are still living with the long-term effects.

One such childhood illness was polio, which was sometimes called “infantile paralysis.” Although the virus was thought to exist for many years before this, it was never fully understood or studied until the middle of the 20th century.

It posed a serious threat to children in the 1940’s and 50’s. In 1943, there were 12,000 reported cases of the polio virus in the U.S. In 1948, there were 27,000 cases. By 1952, there were 59,000 reported cases. Obviously, it was a growing problem. The Chandler area was hit hard with the disease.

On February 12, 1949, Ron Talsma was a nine-year-old boy living on a farm with his family near Chandler. On a Sunday afternoon, he came down with what seemed like a cold. By Tuesday, he was terribly sick with a high fever. His parents, John and Anne Talsma, brought him to the Slayton hospital where he had a spinal tap, which confirmed that he had polio.

He returned home to bed, but by Thursday morning he was screaming in pain and could not stand. And then he was off to Minneapolis, to the Sister Kenny Institute, driven by a neighbor named George Smith.

Ron was kept in quarantine until his fever broke. But before he even left isolation he was joined by his younger brother, Jim, who was eight. Jim and Ron are only 12 months apart in age.

Jim recalls going for a walk in the pasture one morning, but by noon he was sick and soon could not walk. He, too, was rushed to the Slayton hospital, where he had a spinal tap that confirmed that he had polio.

The Talsma boys were not the only ones at the Sister Kenny Institute at that time. Arnold Sankey, Frank Post, Harvey De Kruif, Harlan Schuur, and others from the Chandler area were also there.

(Pictured:  Jim and Ron Talsma at the Kenny Institute where they were treated for polio. Jim is holding a stuffed chick and Ron a real chick, at Easter time in 1949.)

For the complete article, please see the September 6th edition of the Edgerton Enterprise. If you do not currently receive the Enterprise, CLICK HERE for information on how to subscribe!