Steven Ailes contracted polio when he was 4 years old. The year was 1954, prior to the polio vaccine, when upwards of 50,000 people died from the disease. He spent six weeks at the hospital in an iron lung with his legs packed in hot sandbags to keep them from becoming deformed. After returning home, he had to learn to walk again.
Since then, polio has been eradicated in most parts of the world thanks to the vaccine created by Dr. Jonas Salk, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past Oct. 28, and the financial support of Rotary International, which made polio eradication its primary focus in 1988.
“Rotary has been getting rid of polio throughout the world and now only three countries are polio-endemic: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Ailes, who is part of the Warsaw Rotary Club.
Although polio cases are down 99 percent worldwide from 350,000 cases in 1988 to 416 cases in 2013, the remaining 1 percent of cases are the most difficult to prevent because the virus persists in the hardest-to-reach areas.
“Rotary International has raised more money for polio research than most countries in the world,” said Ailes. “Vaccinating children against polio is so important. Not only can polio effect you when you’re young. The long-term effects are also detrimental.”
After reading an article in The Rotarian five years ago, Ailes discovered he had many of the symptoms of post-polio syndrome, which affects upwards of 40 percent of polio survivors.
He had to modify his lifestyle do to lack of stamina, leg and neck pains, and now wears leg braces to assist with walking. It was the third time he has had to learn to walk again. Ten years ago, he had a hip replacement, also brought on by the disease, and had to re-learn to walk then, too.
“My encounter with polio always affected my ability to run at a normal gait, but I always tried to be as active as most people, playing basketball and baseball, then golf and raquetball,” said Ailes. “I have to pace myself, but I keep going. I keep trying.”
Ailes and his wife, Michele, have four children. They reside in Warsaw where Ailes, an ordained minister for the past 40 years, has been the pastor of Walnut Creek United Methodist Church for the last five years.
“I love people and I love Jesus,” said Ailes. “My church ministry work and my work with Rotary’s polio program are very complementary.”
For more information about the Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign, go to www.endpolionow.org.