Utah Rotary Club joins fight against polio

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SUGAR HOUSE -- The national Rotary Club has taken on a lofty quest to eliminate polio altogether. Saturday, the Salt Lake chapter braved the cold and hit the pavement to help bring that goal a little closer.

Nationally, Rotary Club is raising $200 million to match a generous donation from Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. Five Utah clubs -- Murray, Midvale, Sugar House and the Hispanic-Latino Rotary -- are working together to bring in $300,000 of that.

What is... Polio?
Polio is a contagious viral illness that in its most severe form causes paralysis, difficulty breathing and sometimes death. Symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain or stiffness
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Pain or stiffness in the arms or legs
  • Muscle spasms or tenderness
  • Meningitis
-Mayo Clinic

Polio is a viral disease that can affect nerves and can lead to partial or full paralysis.

"We've got to immunize every kid in the world until there's no more polio," said Rotary Club member Scott Leckman.

Club members joined members of the community as they laced up their running shoes and took to Sugarhouse Park Saturday morning for the "Pounding the Pavement for Polio 5K." All the money raised will go directly to the donation effort.

"In my lifetime, I know I will see polio eliminated from the face of this earth," said Penny Atkinson, district governor of the Utah Rotary Club.

While the illness has been eliminated from the U.S., it still exists in four countries -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and India. A recent humanitarian trip took 18 members of the Utah Rotary Club to India.

We personally go to the countries that need this vaccination. We physically give the drops to the children who need the vaccine so we know they're getting it.

–Penny Atkinson

"We personally go to the countries that need this vaccination," said Atkinson. "We physically give the drops to the children who need the vaccine so we know they're getting it."

When the national Rotary Club made eradicating the illness its focus in 1985, 1,000 children per day were contracting the disease. But now...

"Last year there were less than 1,000 cases worldwide," said Leckman. "We're getting very close. It's very exciting."

Just a few simple drops guarantee those children a life without polio. In just half a day during the trip, 100 kids were vaccinated -- from babies, to toddlers, to grade school children.

"Seeing all the poverty, the children sitting and having nothing -- it was really different," said Juan Diego High School student Wilma Rana Lazaro Urcinole.

Volunteers also ventured into rural villages with fliers on upcoming vaccination events.

"Many parents who were resistant to having their children immunized brought their children there because they figured this must be important," said Leckman.

"Overall the experience is wonderful," said Ruz Urcinole, a nurse at University Medical Center. "It's difficult, but it's worth it."

One of the group's biggest contributions was the support they provided to the doctors working in India.

"Their bright faces give a message to our community and to all the people in our medical area that we have to finish this as immediately as we can," said Rahul Wadhwa, with the Rotary Club in India.

For information on how you can donate to the cause, visit the Utah Rotary Club website .

E-mail: sdallof@ksl.com


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