Unsung praises don’t matter

The time was the late 1940s or early ’50s. The place was the streets of Utica, N.Y. And the thoughts of that day are indelibly stamped in my memory.
I had been home for the summer, and now it was time to prepare for the fall. So my mother and I decided to shop in a bigger city 60 miles away—Utica.
In order to make the best of our time, we decided to separate to explore the unfamiliar stores. As I shopped, I had two things on my mind: my fall wardrobe and the fear of contracting polio.
At the time, I didn’t know what the symptoms of polio were. But, still, I was sure I had them!
That was a reasonable fear that first surfaced in the late 1800s and lasted until Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin perfected their vaccines in the mid-1900s.
Polio had been around for a long time. Ancient Egyptian art depicts the result of polio, and Roman Emperor Claudius (10 BC-AD 54) had polio as a child and walked with a cane.
But those were isolated cases. It wasn’t until the 20th century that polio reached major epidemic proportions.
In the 1880s, the first epidemics began in Europe. That was followed with the epidemics of the first half of the 20th century.
Curiously, historians blame the 20th-century epidemics on better sanitation and cleaner water. Earlier, children had mild cases at young ages and were immune for life.
The first major epidemic in the United States was in 1916. That year, there were more than 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
Another serious outbreak was in the 1940s and ’50s. So the news of Salk’s vaccine was welcomed.
I still remember that red-letter day—April 12, 1955. I was married by that time, and my husband of four months and I were walking home from the church publishing firm where we worked in Scottdale, Pa.
As we passed her house, Mrs. Yake stood on her front porch with her hands raised and exclaimed, “Thank, God, they have developed an effective polio vaccine.”
She was quoting Thomas Francis from the University of Michigan, who had announced that the vaccine developed by his former student, Jonas Salk, was found “safe, effective, and potent” in field trials.
Six years later, Albert Sabin introduced his oral vaccine—and millions of children were fed it on a sugar cube!
Salk and Sabin became heroes around the world! But I never thought about the “unsung heroes” who helped develop the vaccine until I read the obituary of Hilary Koprowski.
In 1950, Koprowski was the first researcher to show it was possible to vaccinate against polio. He died last week at the age of 96.
Historian David M. Oshinsky said, “Jonas Salk is a god in America, Albert Sabin’s got a ton of publicity, and Hilary Koprowski, who really should be part of that trinity, is the forgotten man.”
Koprowski’s son said his father liked the scientific recognition without the celebrity. “He enjoyed not having his scientific work disrupted.”
Think about your own life. It is what you have accomplished that matters “sung” or ”unsung.”
In fact, “unsung” may be better. After all, it is what you have inside you that really counts!
Write Marie Snider at thisside60@cox.net

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