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Who are Some Famous Polio Survivors?

By N. Swensson
Updated May 23, 2024
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Polio, or poliomyelitis, is an acute viral infection that can take a variety of forms and affects different areas of the brain, spinal column, and nervous system. The most common type of this disease is spinal polio, which can cause paralysis in the trunk and extremities. There is no cure for polio, but vaccinations developed in the 1950s and 1960s have helped to reduce the number of people who contract it. Perhaps one of the best known polio survivors was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), 32nd president of the United States, who was permanently paralyzed by the disease. Other famous polio survivors include Neil Young, Alan Alda, and Mia Farrow.

FDR served as president during the Great Depression and was the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms. He is probably best known for developing the New Deal, a large network of government programs developed to stimulate the U.S. economy and bring the country out of the depression. Many of these programs are still in effect today. FDR contracted polio in 1921, and it left him paralyzed from the waist down. Over the years, he sought a variety of treatments and therapies in an effort to strengthen his legs, but he never regained use of them.

Neil Young is a Canadian musician and former member of the rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. He has developed a successful solo career since leaving the band and is best known as a song writer and guitar player. As a child, Young not only contracted polio, but also developed epilepsy and diabetes. Another well-known Canadian who survived polio is actor Donald Sutherland. Like Neil Young, Sutherland suffered from a variety of childhood health problems, including rheumatic fever and hepatitis. The actor gained notoriety with his first role in the 1967 film The Dirty Dozen, and since then has appeared in more than 130 movies.

Still other polio survivors have embarked on successful careers in television and film. Emmy-winning American actor Alan Alda, most famous for his role as Hawkeye Pierce on the television series M.A.S.H., contracted the disease when he was seven. He endured treatments that, although painful, helped him to regain a great deal of mobility. Actress Mia Farrow also survived polio and has since helped to raise money and awareness of the disease through a number of charitable efforts.

The world of professional sports may be an unexpected place to find polio survivors, but golfer Jack Nicklaus had a mild case of the disease as a child. He was able to avoid severe effects from polio and went on to become one of the most successful golfers in history.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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