Tuesday, October 24th, is World Polio Day. I’d like to share the remarkable journey of Ann Lee Hussey, a polio survivor turned relentless advocate, exemplifies the spirit of Rotary's mission in eradicating polio. Ann spoke at Governor Jim Paddock’s Foundation Gala at the Long Beach Aquarium in 2014. Traveling from Maine, her presence alone was a testament to her dedication and perseverance. Her address that evening was both moving and inspiring.
Ann Lee's life was forever altered when she was diagnosed with polio at a tender age of 17 months, before the polio vaccine was widely distributed. The physical hardships and social ostracism she endured as a child sculpted her into a resilient individual with a mission larger than life itself.
In 2000, an event associated with Rotary International revealed to Ann Lee a path she was destined to tread. It was the path of contributing towards a polio-free world, a cause she passionately embraced. The narrative of her making 20 trips to some of the world's most rugged terrains - Mali, Nigeria, Chad, with teams of volunteers, to immunize children against polio, is a testament to Rotary's unwavering commitment towards eradicating this debilitating disease. Her personal ethos resonates with the core values of Rotary, which orbits around service, leadership, and the relentless pursuit of global understanding and peace.
Both of my sisters suffered with Polio when they were kids. My older sister recovered fully but my younger sister had to wear a brace for many years. It wasn’t until I was a father that I recognized the unbelievable fear my parents must have felt. And as a Rotarian, diving into Ann Lee's story, I can't help but feel a deep sense of camaraderie. It's not just about the numbers, though they are indeed impressive. It's about the lives touched, the communities transformed, and the indelible marks left on the sands of time. Since the inception of the PolioPlus program in 1985, Rotary members have rallied resources exceeding $2.1 billion, volunteering countless hours to immunize nearly 3 billion children across 122 countries. The ripple effect of these efforts is monumental - a drastic plunge in polio cases by 99.9%, with polio remaining endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The collective endeavor has not only been about eradicating polio but also about instilling hope, fostering resilience, and knitting a tapestry of global fellowship aimed at alleviating suffering and championing a brighter, healthier future for all, irrespective of geographical or cultural divides.
Ann Lee Hussey's story is a call to each of us. It embodies the essence of Rotary's mission and the profound impact we can achieve when driven by a cause that transcends personal adversities. Through the lens of Ann Lee's life, we can see the broader picture of Rotary's indomitable spirit in fostering a world where every child stands a chance against polio, a world where the likes of Ann Lee Hussey are the torchbearers of hope and relentless pursuit of service above self.