By Christina Macone-Greene SPECIAL TO THE UNION-TRIBUNE
Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.
ESCONDIDO— Jack Campbell didn’t celebrate his sixth birthday with a party like most kids do. Instead, polio confined him to an iron lung for a month at Los Angeles County Hospital.
That was before Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in 1955. Since then, many thought the virus would become a thing of the past. They were wrong.
Polio, a viral disease that impairs the nervous system and can cause paralysis, struck one morning when Campbell had trouble getting out of bed. “I was too weak to stand or sit,” he said.
Campbell, who lives in Escondido, has been in a wheelchair ever since. As with most polio survivors, Campbell’s muscles have grown weaker as the years wear on.
Over the years, polio epidemics have dropped. Last year, the reported number was 1,660.
“The great fear is that as people begin to believe that the disease no longer exists, they then decline to have their children immunized, and the number of cases go back up,” he said.
In 1998, Campbell reached a milestone. He celebrated the 50th anniversary of his virus, and with it came a passion for fundraising to fight polio.
Before Campbell joined the Rotary Club of Escondido, he and his wife, Jill, stumbled upon a 10-year-old Rotary booklet about eliminating polio in the world. In 1987, Rotary International had launched a campaign to raise $120 million to fight the disease.
“It said Rotary could buy and distribute vaccines for eight children for one dollar,” Campbell said. “We thought about donating $12,500 to vaccinate 100,000 kids.”
He mailed a letter to the Escondido Rotary, challenging the club to match his amount so 200,000 children in impoverished countries could be helped.
The Rotary handed the letter to its past president, Dr. Nick Tsoulas. He met with the Campbells and, at the Rotary’s request, the couple upped the ante to $20,000.
A total of $140,000 was raised after dozens of other district Rotary clubs participated. In 1999, the San Diego District Rotary used the money to sponsor a National Immunization Day.
“They selected the country of Eritrea, because they had worked on other projects there before, and its size was small enough that our funds would cover it,” Campbell said.
In eight days, 389,000 children were vaccinated. Rotary International and the World Health Organization deposited the remaining money in a Polio Plus account. As donations filter in, the money is still used to send medical teams to countries with outbreaks.
Campbell remains an advocate for fighting polio. In October, he will serve as honorary chairman at the Annual Rotary District Conference in San Diego, for which ending polio is the theme.
Campbell pointed out that the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that if polio’s spread was stopped for six consecutive months, the virus could be eradicated.
“On the other hand, if we give up on getting that last 1 percent, then polio could come back like it was in the 1980s, when there were over a million cases and thousands of deaths every year,” he said. “I want to see polio dead before I am.”
Christina Macone-Greene is a freelance writer from Fallbrook.