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A Voice for Vaccines

Len was 14 years old and at a summer camp in the Poconos when he came down with what he thought was the flu. He was in the camp infirmary resting when a doctor came and rushed him to the hospital, though Len didn't know why. At the hospital, he was put in an isolation room with glass walls. He could see his parents through the glass, but they were not allowed to hug or touch.

His parents were told that their son probably wouldn't make it through the night.

Len's diagnosis? Polio. The year was 1948 and the viral disease was paralyzing and killing tens of thousands of children and adults across the country. Len had a particularly rare and fatal form of the disease, called bulbar polio, which attacks the bulbar region of the brain and the brain stem. A fire fighter brought in to the hospital the same evening as Len received the same diagnosis. He did not make it to see the morning.

Miraculously, Len survived. After a month in the hospital, he was finally able to return to his relieved parents. And after many more months of physical therapy, he was able to regain use of his leg muscles and walk.

Now 76, Len is telling his story. I had the pleasure of meeting him and his daughter, Alanna Levine, M.D., a pediatrician, at our Parenting offices the other day. The two of them have joined forces with the American Academy of Pediatrics and other men and women who suffered from vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, and diphtheria to remind people what it was like before the vaccines we take for granted today were created. People died. People suffered. Parents were told their children wouldn't survive another night.

As a mom of toddler boys myself, I understand how scary the (unfounded) fears that have surrounded immunizations over the past decade can be. And it's good to educate yourself and look into the research. But Len can't understand why anyone would leave their child and their community at risk for diseases that can be prevented so easily. And neither can we.

Check out the campaign to hear others' stories.