This week, the Texas Polio Survivors’ Association presented an $80,000 check to the Memorial Hermann Foundation to benefit polio patients at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
The new fund, named in honor of Dr. Carlos Vallbona and in memory of polio survivor Nita Weil, will provide assistance to polio patients treated at TIRR Memorial Hermann in need of financial aid for essential items such as medication and equipment. Additional purposes will include support for continuing education and training for staff working with polio patients and others with mobility challenges.
“We are deeply grateful to the Texas Polio Survivors’ Association for this very special gift and honored to recognize the dedication and commitment of Dr. Vallbona and Nita Weil,” said Carl Josehart, chief executive officer of TIRR Memorial Hermann. “With physicians like Dr. Vallbona spearheading research breakthroughs and medical advances at TIRR, we don’t use the word, ‘disability,’ we see the ability in everyone.”
Dr. Vallbona, retired consulting physician at TIRR Memorial Hermann who specialized in the management of post-polio syndrome, has been called one of the world’s foremost authorities on post-polio. He served as director of TIRR Memorial Hermann’s outpatient polio clinic, one of the few in the country that provides state-of-the-art care for patients who live daily with the effects of post-polio syndrome.
Nita Weil was a polio survivor who dedicated her life to helping the disabled. She volunteered at TIRR Memorial Hermann for 43 years and served as director of volunteers. Weil co-founded the Texas Polio Survivors’ Association in 1984. She died in 2005 and is remembered for her tireless efforts on behalf of polio survivors and the disabled.
“We are pleased to make this donation to benefit polio patients in need of assistance,” said Rocky McAshan, president of the Texas Polio Survivors’ Association. “Through the Vallbona/Weil Fund, countless lives will be touched.”
For years, polio was one of the most feared diseases in America, responsible for crippling paralysis and death. In 1952, it reached its peak in the United States with more than 21,000 paralytic cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jonas Salk introduced the polio vaccine in 1955, stopping the spread of the disease and eventually eradicating it in the United States.
Nearly 1.63 million polio survivors live in the United States today; the U.S. Public Health Service estimates 140,000 survivors of the 1940 and 1950 epidemics live in Texas. It is unknown how many younger survivors contracted polio in South America and Mexico, and have immigrated to Texas. This means there are 50,000 survivors for every 8 million Americans.
More than 300,000 of the country's' polio survivors may be at risk of post-polio syndrome, which is marked by muscle weakness, pain, fatigue, breathing problems, and decreased tolerance of cold temperatures; symptoms that appear 10 to 40 years after the initial illness. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that Post Polio Syndrome affects between 25 and 50 percent of these survivors.