Rotary and the Chicago Cubs team up to strike out polio
, ILLINOIS, USA
. (May 21, 2010) -- When 14-year-old Joshua Kim decided last summer to donate his entire allowance nest-egg to Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign, he never dreamed that almost a year later he would be taking the mound at Wrigley Field for a ceremonial first pitch.
How appropriate that Joshua, now 15 and a freshman at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, will do the honors just before the May 25 Cubs-Dodgers game to kick off a special evening designated: Strike Out Polio -- Rotary Day at Wrigley Field.
“I can’t believe this is really happening. I’ve always wanted to do this,” says Joshua, whose father, Tony Kim, is a member of the Chicagoland Korean Rotary Club of Northbrook. His dad will be in the stands with more than 600 Chicago area Rotary members, relatives, friends, and staff from Evanston-based Rotary International Headquarters cheering for the young right-hander.
Tony Kim’s involvement in his club’s polio eradication fundraising efforts inspired Joshua to contribute his entire savings of $1,300 to Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign, which aims to raise $200 million in response to a $355-million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All of the resulting $555 million will fund polio immunization activities in developing countries where the crippling disease still threatens children.
Rotary Day at Wrigley Field is expected to raise more than $10,000 for the End Polio Now campaign, with the Chicago Cubs contributing $20 to the campaign for each ticket sold by area Rotary clubs. The special evening also raises public awareness via the End Polio Now message on Wrigley’s famous marquee on the corner of Clark and Addison and announcements inside the ballpark before and during the game, which begins at 7:05 p.m.
“Many Chicagoans don’t even remember polio -- let alone realize that it still paralyzes children in other parts of the world -- and that’s why public events like Rotary Day at Wrigley Field are so important,” says Glenn E. Estess Sr., chair of The Rotary Foundation, which operates Rotary’s polio eradication program.
Rotary International, a global humanitarian service organization, is a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF. Since the initiative began in 1988, the incidence of polio -- which then infected 350,000 children annually -- has plummeted by more than 99 percent. Last year, fewer than 2,000 cases were reported worldwide. Today, the wild poliovirus is endemic to only four countries -- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan -- although other developing countries continue to report cases that can be traced to the endemic four.
Although polio quickly vanished from most of the United States after the advent of the Salk and Sabin vaccines in the 1950s and 1960s, older Chicagoans will remember the polio panics of the early 1950s. The epidemic peaked in 1952, when nearly 58,000 cases were reported nationwide, leading to 3,300 deaths, most of them children. Of those, Chicago children accounted for 1,200 infections and 82 deaths. Since polio’s cause was unknown, frightened parents kept their children out of movie theaters, swimming pools and other public places -- including baseball parks.
When the vaccines became available, Chicago public health workers raced to reach the city’s children before the virus found them first. In August 1956, a story in Life magazine carried the headline: “Polio Specter Stalks Chicago -- City fights a frightening outbreak by giving Salk shots on the run.”
One of the most sobering reminders of polio’s impact on American life is a passage from the 2004 book, “Splendid Solution -- Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio,” by TIME Magazine Senior Writer Jeffrey Kluger. It contains a reference to Wrigley Field that is eerily appropriate for the May 25 benefit. In the book, Kluger reports that there were 42,033 polio cases nationwide in 1949, a record at that time.
“It was a number that was almost impossible to contemplate,” he writes, “the equivalent to filling every seat in Chicago’s Wrigley Field with children, adding 3,000 more standing in the aisles, and then paralyzing them all.”
For more information visit rotary.org/endpolio