Polio survivor inspires support for ending the disease
David Goldstone, polio survivor and staunch advocate for eradication efforts. Photo courtesy of David Goldstone
Ten days before his 21st birthday, David Goldstone lay in a hospital bed near Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, his arms and legs paralyzed by polio, his body gripped by fever and in terrible pain. His hospital admission form read, "Life expectancy: 24 hours."
Six days later, Goldstone emerged from a semicoma and was moved out of isolation into a children's ward; adult polio victims were and still are relatively rare. "You will probably never walk again," the hospital’s chief medical officer told him.
"I will," Goldstone replied.
That was 55 years ago. Now 76 and a member of the Rotary Club of Crawley, Western Australia, Goldstone recounted his battle with polio at an October meeting of nearly 600 Rotarians gathered in support of polio eradication. He had never shared his story in public because of the emotional trauma it would have caused him. But fellow club member Michael Sheldrick, manager of the Global Poverty Project’s polio eradication campaign, had persuaded him to talk about his experience.
Throughout most of the story, Goldstone referred to himself as "John," a friend, revealing only at the end that the story was about him.
"For days, John's arms and legs were covered with sandbags to stop any deformity from occurring, [then] they were placed in splints," Goldstone told his listeners. "Then, John was placed in a half-body plaster cast to stop his limbs from changing shape, and was administered injections of morphine every four hours to help the pain. After six weeks, he became immune to the morphine and lived with the pain."
John was fortunate to receive physical therapy, Goldstone said. First, he learned to bend a knuckle, then to regain use of his left hand, to bend an arm, and to feed himself. Several weeks later, he sat in a wheelchair. From there, he learned to walk all over again, "just like a baby."
"Near the entrance to the ward were three iron lungs, always occupied with children," Goldstone continued. "John still has nightmares of the ghostly sound of the bellows pumping air. Whenever the level of sound changed, he knew another child had passed away."
Goldstone finished by saying, "There is no friend John. This is my story, and I do not want one more person in this world to suffer as I have suffered." He said that Rotary must keep the promise it made to the world's children 25 years ago to eradicate polio.
Pennies for Polio
For many years, Goldstone has worked extensively with children crippled by polio, inspiring them with the simple message: “If I can do it, you can do it.” And for 10 years, he chaired the polio eradication committee of District 9450 (now 9455). A signature accomplishment was the Pennies for Polio project, which he initiated in 1999. A partnership with the Perth Mint, the effort made available as collector's items 100,000 Australian pennies produced before 1964. Sales of the near-mint-condition coins raised more than A$84,000 for PolioPlus.
Goldstone now has postpolio syndrome, enduring fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and respiratory problems. Yet he continues to help young people with disabilities and disadvantaged youth by generating support for projects like CanTeen, Camp for Kids, Teen Challenge, and the St. John of God Horizon Program for the homeless. All told, he has raised $11 million for charity.
Goldstone has also been a leader in expanding the Crawley club, which now has a membership of more than 100, with an average age of 42 and with several corporate members. Recently, the club raised $20,000 for PolioPlus through an online petition drive in support of polio eradication, sponsored by Australian Rotarians and the Global Poverty Project. The club contributed $1 for each supporter's signature.
"If I have helped save a life or made someone's dream of a better life come true, then that is why I am proud to be called a Rotarian," Goldstone says.
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