“I was one of the lucky ones!” That’s the response that Dwight Bowers shares as he explains his bout with polio. Polio (or poliomyelitis) is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease. The virus, which spreads from person to person, often invades the affected person’s brain and spinal cord, frequently causing paralysis. Mr. Bowers was suddenly stricken with the disease on Tuesday, August 29, 1950. That morning, Dwight, who was just 4 years old at the time, awoke unable to get out of bed. Hearing his cries for help, Dwight’s mother came running in the room, and screamed for his father who arrived in a matter of seconds. Mr. Bowers clearly to this day recalls their loud whispering outside his door, and the arrival of a physician. Soon after the doctor’s appearance, a very rapid ride to Lima Memorial Hospital followed. It was there where the young Dwight heard the doctor echo to his parents, “There’s not one chance in 10,000 that your son is ever going to walk again”. Fortunately for Dwight and his family, after spending a week in the hospital receiving treatment (The “Sister Kinney Treatment” which involved having one’s limbs packed in hot compresses), he had beaten the slim chances of recovery. In fact, Dwight walked out of the hospital to his father’s truck. Miraculously without the need for bracing, crutches, without a limp, and no apparent after effects of the traumatic ordeal.
Like many others from this time period of rampant spreading of polio, (The worst outbreak was 1952 when 58,000 cases were reported resulting in 3,145 deaths and 21,269 left paralyzed according to the CDC) Dwight was front page news. However, unlike most, he was able to emerge relatively unscathed from the disease. Bowers was able to carry on a relatively “normal” life. “I grew to have a successful high school athletic career, lettering in both track and football. In track I put the shot, threw the discus, ran the half-mile, and high jumped. Quite a variety of events for a polio survivor!”
Following high school Dwight continued to beat the odds. He worked 45 hours per week as a “Bucket Maker” in Lima, while also taking a full load of evening classes at OSU-Lima. Bowers was granted a student pastorate at the Delta Circuit of Evangelical United Brethren Church serving Mt. Pleasant and Beulah Churches in Fulton County which led to his transfer and graduation from BGSU in 1969. From 1969-1974 Dwight taught Social Studies and coached wrestling at Wauseon HS, along with still serving the churches as a lay pastor until 1972. He went on to attend the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, while also serving as a youth pastor for the 1st Christian Church in Wauseon and working in the Psychiatric Care Unit at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima. Bowers graduated from Seminary School in 1979. From there he went on to serve churches in Van Buren, Kettering, and Cincinnati, Ohio before settling at Bryan Wesley United Methodist Church in 1998. Dwight is still the longest tenured pastor at Wesley after serving 14 years, retiring in 2012. His respite was brief however as he was asked, and accepted, the position of Assistant District Superintendent in the Northwest Plains District Office in Ottawa. A position he occupied until June, 2014.
Although now “retired”, Dwight is actually far from it. He continues to serve as a certified coach and mentor for young or new United Methodist pastors, teaches in the West Ohio Conference’s (UMC) Certified Lay Academy, leads District workshops on worship, as well as serving on the Board of the Pohly Center for Ministry Supervision at the United Theological Seminary, in Dayton. If that isn’t enough he does consulting on church administrative structure and congregational leadership as well as running local church stewardship campaigns. Dwight has also done pulpit supply for pastors who were ill or on vacation. He is currently serving an interim pastorate at the Farmer and Ney United Methodist Churches, in Defiance County.
Fully aware of how fortunate he has been in his experience with polio, Dwight notes he is not totally free from the after effects of the disease. “I do live with the continuing awareness of Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) which brings a variety of symptoms to polio survivors.”
According to the CDC, symptoms may include: muscle weakness, mental and physical fatigue, and pain from joint deterioration. PPS affects around 33% of all polio survivors. Dwight shared he does experience some numbness in his feet. However, doctors are not quite certain whether to attribute that to polio or a back injury he suffered several years ago. Although unsure whether to blame his lack of feeling on polio, Dwight noted he has a friend who had to retire from his dental practice due to a rapid development of pain and numbness in his arms which has been attributed to his polio.
Although polio is no longer an issue in the United States (There have been no reported cases of polio that have originated in the United States since 1979), the disease has been brought into the country by travelers with polio. However, this has not occurred since 1993. This eradication of the disease in the U.S. is due to vaccinations available to prevent it from being contracted. The first vaccine was an injectable form invented by Dr. Jonas Salk that became available in 1955. An oral form of vaccination was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin and began being utilized in 1963. The CDC website claims that since 1988 more than 2.5 billion children have been immunized worldwide and the overall number of polio cases has dropped by 99 percent.
Even though polio is no longer a threat in the U.S., it does continue to be a problem in other countries. In fact, the CDC indicates that ten countries continue to have cases of polio, and Pakistan, Syria, and Cameroon have allowed the virus to spread.
The goal of the CDC, World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to eradicate the disease from the world. One other organization that has made it their mission to eliminate polio is the Rotary International, an organization that Dwight has been an active member since the mid 1980’s. In 1985 Dr. Sabin, along with Rotary International President Carlos Conseco, joined forces to launch the Polio Plus Program. In fact, it was the Rotary’s participation in the program that prompted Dwight to become a member as he shared the organization’s mission to wipeout polio.
The Polio Plus Program is committed to making immunization available to countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria where polio is still active. According to Bowers, the only new cases of “active polio” that have occurred in 2016 have been isolated to these three countries. However, the presence and transmission of polio in other places has been the spread of the “wild polio” virus which lives in soil, water and sewage, where it can survive for up to 3 years.
Since Sabin and Canseco first announced Polio Plus, Rotarians have contributed or raised over $1.6 billion for the initiative, and immunized over 2.5 billion children, as Rotary sponsored volunteer immunization teams have taken the effort, quite literally, all over the world. Dwight elaborated on the Rotary’s focus through the Polio Plus Program. “We don’t just send teams from the developed world. Ordinary citizens, “in country,” are trained to give the vaccine, keep local records of immunization, and report to their national registry.”
According to Bowers several factors contribute to the disease’s prevalence in these areas. “The remoteness of locations, political turmoil, intertribal and armed conflicts, religious rivalries, the movement of migrant workers and refugees, and distrust of Westerners all contribute to the difficulty of eradication in these places. Work with local religious leaders, in many cases, has helped expand immunization in some areas – reducing resistance to immunization by as much as two-thirds.”
According to Bowers, our District Rotary (District 6600) has set some lofty goals towards the eradication effort. The goals for 2016-2017 are as follows:
1. For every club to donate a minimum of $25.00/member via fundraising for Polio Plus.
2. For every Rotarian to donate $25.00, or $2.50/month, via Rotary Direct for Polio Plus.
3. For every Rotarian to donate $100.00 to the Rotary Foundation Annual Fund.
Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, all gifts will be matched $2 for every $1 donated. Also, a Toledo Rotarian has pledged to match gifts of $101.00 to $1000.00 from individual members, and funds raised by club fundraisers in any amount, up to a total of $100,000.00. What that means is an individual gift of $101.00 or more, will be doubled; then that amount matched $2.00 for every $1.00 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (A gift of $101.00, for example, will be doubled to $202.00. That amount will be matched 2:1; so a gift of $101.00 will end up being $606.00.) Simply stated, District 6600 has the potential, then, to generate $600,000.00 which is enough to provide 1 million vaccinations!
Dwight is also quick to add that you don’t have to be a Rotary member to help with the effort. For more information on what you can do, Bowers encourages people to check out the website www.endpolionow.org. People can also donate directly on the Rotary website by going to www.rotary.org/en/give.
In closing, Dwight sums up his passion for eradicating polio very directly. “I want you to know, this is more than a project for me. It’s personal!”
Kent Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org