Jonas Salk and the Discovery of A Cure for Polio

Our Mission is like Jonas Salk’s Relentless Effort to Eradicate Polio

Jonas Salk by Yousuf Karsh

You already know that children today are routinely immunized against diseases such as measles, mumps and chicken pox. But did you know that one of these childhood diseases, polio, scared the living daylights out of parents everywhere?

Daisy Suckley took the only two known photographs of FDR in a wheelchair. From “Closest Companion,” edited by Geoffrey Ward.

Attacking the central nervous system, afflicting children of every race and income, no home was safe from the possibility of contracting polio. Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped found the March of Dimes to research a cure for polio, which had paralyzed him in 1921.

There was a war to win. One relentless research team worked night and day in the labs to see if polio might be attacked and vanquished. As Jonas Salk and his team grew sure that a solution would be discovered, they were driven to a kind of madness to make progress as quickly as possible. A cure was no small improvement to enhance the lives of already healthy adults. Leave to others lesser quests to increase the size of television screens or make sure that there is enough avocado in your shampoo. Jonas Salk was out to change the world for everyone. The glorious denouement of his lifelong fight to eradicate the plague of polio from our planet was at hand.

When I was growing up there was a man at our church in Burlingame who had to sleep in an iron lung, because he could not breathe without it.

Jonas Salk’s team discovered the cure, but that’s not all; when asked if he had applied for a patent, Salk replied, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” He chose to freely share the formula with the world. Had he chosen to patent his vaccine, Salk may have become a billionaire; the estimated worth of such a patent is more than $5 billion. A grateful nation tried to express its thanks to this hero, but words fall short of all we want to say. Salk said, “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.” The US has been polio-free since 1979.

Jonas Salk’s mission inspires me to keep pressing on to make Jesus known in all of his glorious healing, until he is the healer of peoples everywhere. The healing that we need, that Jesus Christ came to bring, is the healing that we humbly offer to the peoples of the world.

And if you can think of anything more important than that, you will have to tell me, because I can’t. No wonder Vernon Groom said, “If God calls me to be a missionary, I would not stoop to be a king.”

Watch this one minute tribute to Dr. Jonas Salk. “There is no patent.”

Dr. Ken Bailey’s wife, Ethel “Mickey” Bailey, R.N., worked for Jonas Salk in the 1950s when the polio vaccine was developed. This blog is a tribute to Ethel Bailey and the Salk Institute team. Learn more about the Salk Institute here.

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