PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – On April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk announced that a huge clinical trial had proved successful. He and other researchers at the University of Pittsburgh had developed a vaccine to end infantile paralysis, better known as polio.
The anniversary of that incredible moment was commemorated with a video conference linking doctors and students around the world, on the very campus where Dr. Salk conducted his research.
“At the age of six months I contracted polio,” said KDKA News anchor Stacy Smith from the podium. “And when I first came down with it, I was totally paralyzed. All I could move were my eyes.”
While moderating the event, Smith shared his experiences, which included 13 major surgeries.
The conference was organized by Carl Kurlander, producer of an award winning documentary film called “The Shot Felt ‘Round the World.” He said the project grew out of conversations with his daughter.
“She said, ‘Tell it to me again, Daddy.’ So I realized the power of this polio story which is so rooted in Pittsburgh, and how it could be connected to this idea of changing the world,” said Kurlander.
By the end of next year, doctors hope to finally eradicate the virus which lingers in remote regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
“I was in an iron lung for several months,” said Ron Flynn, who spent 10 years of his childhood at D-T Watson Institute. He was among the first to test the experimental shots of the early ’50s. Too late for him, he paved the way for others.
“We’re like dinosaurs,” Flynn said of those infected with the disease. “We’re becoming extinct. And that’s a good thing.”