Ann Lee Hussey is 58 and lives near Portland, Maine. She worked for many years with her husband, who’s a veterinarian.
Then her life changed. Her husband took her to a Rotary Club meeting. She learned of Rotary’s mission to eliminate polio.
Ann Lee Hussey had polio as a child. She wore the heavy braces polio children wore then. She endured the taunts of other school schoolchildren, as well as the disability, the sheer pain, the torturous treatments. She still walks with a limp, has a deformed foot, and is in such pain at the end of long days that she cannot sleep.
Rotary needed volunteers to go abroad and immunize children. Ann Lee had never traveled much, never been much interested. She loved Maine. But she thought, “I’m there.”
When she went to India the first time, Ms. Hussey saw children with polio dragging themselves in the dirt. She saw a young man on all fours, wearing sandals on his hands. He asked her how he could be tall and walk erect like her.
She has traveled to Niger, Mali, Chad, and Bangladesh — more than 25 foreign trips, 18 of which she has led. She also travels the United States to raise awareness and money for the cause.
Rotary and its partners — UNICEF, the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and, most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — have immunized seven million children against polio.
In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio in the world. Today, there are 700 — a 98 percent reduction. Last year, India became polio-free. That was once unimaginable.
Polio is in only three nations today — Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Pakistan is the worst. Because of hostility to the West, there is extreme resistance to the vaccine. The Taliban tells the people the vaccine is a form of sterilization. And health care workers carrying it are at risk. An recent attack on an immunization party there resulted in the deaths of 12 of the health care workers’ guards.
But polio does not stop for war or superstition.
So the WHO, Rotary, and their partners press on. Even in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I met Ann Lee Hussey at a Rotary fundraiser for the polio crusade, last Sunday at the Valentine. Local Rotarians, led by the Sylvania chapter, sought to raise $10,000 for the cause. I hope they surpassed their goal, for the Gates foundation will match what they raised, 2 to 1.
Ms. Hussey is a no-nonsense sort of person — a Mainer not given to poetic or emotional displays. But I could see she was in pain at the Sunday night reception. Then I imagined her walking the hills and deserts of Asia and Africa. That’s how people of conviction and action are — quiet, brave, matter-of-fact.
What a difference Rotary is making in the world. I hope the organization is given the Nobel Peace Prize for eliminating polio. I hope it tackles hunger next.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.