The March of Dimes: America Fights Back
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Poliomyelitis: The Last Childhood Plague
Living in Fear: America in the Polio Years
Roosevelt: A Presidential Campaign
You are on March of Dimes
Sister Kenny: Miracle Worker
Dr. Salk: The Man Who Saved the Children
Polio Today: Nearing the end of the battle
In Conclusion


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In addition to research, the National Foundation funded practical measures to ease the burden of the polio epidemics.  When World War II depleted the home front supply of doctors and nurses, the National Foundation funded scholarships and training programs to re-staff hospitals.  Sister Kenny's methods were more labour intensive than splints, and the National Foundation paid to train Kenny therapists and to place them on the polio wards.   When hospitals needed more and more iron lungs and rocking beds, the National Foundation organized regional supply depots, where the equipment could wait out the lulls in preparation for speedy shipping to affected areas.  They also organized (and funded) squadrons of doctors and nurses who would fly to epidemic areas to set up emergency hospitals.  They printed pamphlets and bulletins, and supplied them to doctors' offices and hospital waiting rooms, offering advice ranging from how to pay ambulance bills to how to deal with the psychological effects of polio on the siblings of paralyzed children. 

"When in doubt, the final advice was always, 'Consult your local chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.  This service is made possible by contributions to the March of Dimes.'" 1

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The story of the Arkansas epidemic of 1949 is typical of the total commitment to polio patients that the National Foundation displayed.  Charles Massey was regional coordinator for Arkansas, Kentucky, and Georgia in 1948.  He tells his story in A Paralyzing Fear

He was contacted in the middle of the summer by the University Hospital, the only hospital in Arkansas that would accept polio patients.  They expected a patient from the northern part of the state.  It was a heads-up call; no one knew if it was an isolated case or the first in a wave.  That same day, several more calls came in and within two days, the polio ward was full.  The doctor in charge called Massey and said, "I understand the March of Dimes is responsible for polio."  He explained that they needed equipment, nurses, doctors, iron lungs, etc.  Massey called the March of Dimes headquarters and then assured the doctor that all would be taken care of.

The cases poured in.  First they took over the nursing residence to set up a respiratory center.  A few years earlier, an epidemic in North Carolina had overwhelmed the hospitals, and the March of Dimes had been forced to set up a field hospital.  They didn't want to do that again, so Massey had to call other hospitals and convince them to take polio patients.  Massey called the newspapers and invited them to take pictures at University Hospital, where the patients were being lined up in the hall.  In a week, there was a polio ward in the chapel at Baptist Hospital.   St. Vincent's Hospital gave over an empty wing, and the National Foundation brought in staff, beds, iron lungs, and rewired the wing and brought in refrigerators to store pharmaceuticals. 

The American Red Cross, the Joint Orthopedic Nursing Association, and the American Physical Therapy Association had grants from the National Foundation to train people in the care of polio patients.  Nurses flew in from all over the country and were housed in hotels.  They even provided social workers to council the families of polio patients, many of whom suffered tremendous guilt over their loved one's illness.

The way the National Foundation looked at it was that if you were the hospital, you treated the patient and sent the bills to the March of Dimes.2    

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Living in Fear
Roosevelt | March of Dimes | Sister Kenny | Dr. Salk
Polio Today | In Conclusion
Bibliography | Links


1.  Seavey, Nina Gilden, Jane S. Smith, & Paul Wagner.  A Paralyzing Fear: The Triumph over Polio in America.  New York, New York: TV Books.  1998.  pp. 77-78.

2.  idem.  pp. 85-88.