Longview polio survivor works tirelessly to help eradicate disease: By Sherry P. Shephard sshephard@news-journal.com -

PDG Shirley Griffin remembers the tears streaming down her mother’s face in 1951 as she rubbed the legs of Griffin and her older brother, trying to ease the pain brought on by polio.

“The pain was unbelievable — you’ll remember that pain,” said Griffin, who was 9 at the time. “My mother really didn’t know whether she would have two children or not because it was such a bad virus.”

Years later, fighting polio is still a part of Griffin’s life as she works tirelessly to help eradicate the virus. Griffin, a member of the Longview Rotary Club, also is a past district governor.

“The reason I became involved in polio eradication is because I am a polio survivor,” Griffin said. “It means a lot to me to be able to donate and also work with our district, which includes 44 clubs for fundraising for polio eradication.”

Griffin, who has been a member of the Longview Rotary Club for nearly 25 years, has worked almost nonstop in her fundraising efforts.

“Our district has made over $750,000 to donate to Rotary International for polio eradication,” she said. “My goal for my district is to raise $1 million, so we’re three quarters there.”

In 2012, Griffin, along with Rotarians, traveled to India for National Immunization Day (NID) to help administer polio drops to children from birth to 5 years old. “We went into the slums near Delhi and spent two days giving the polio drops to the children,” she said. “The first day we were there we gave the drops to 185 children.”

Back in 1951, when Griffin and her 11-year-old brother had polio, there wasn’t a vaccine. “The (Jonas) Salk vaccine came out in 1955 and the (Albert S.) Sabin vaccine came out in 1960,” Griffin said. “The polio pandemic was in 1952.” In addition to the leg pain she suffered as a child, Griffin also remembers the fevers and being quarantined. “We were quarantined in our house, and the hospitals were full,” she said. “We couldn’t get in (the hospital) but the doctor came every day.” Griffin said she and her brother were in bed all summer. “We did get to go back to school in September, but not all day,” she said. “We had to really be careful for about a year.” Griffin said when she and her brother returned home from school each day, their mother would make them take a nap. “We had to because we were so tired,” she said. While the polio vaccine wasn’t an option in 1951, Griffin said parents today should make sure their children are vaccinated against diseases.

“I think right now there are about 20% of parents who do not vaccinate their children and that, in my opinion, is very harmful,” she said. Griffin said the last polio case in the United States was in 1978. “But if someone who had the germ were to fly over from Pakistan or Afghanistan (where polio is still endemic), it could start all over in the United States,” she said. “So far in those two countries this year, there have been 39 cases. We’re trying to make sure we get rid of it all and not have to worry about it.”

Longview Rotary Club member James Roberts has known Griffin for 30 years. “She’s very dedicated,” Roberts said. “Polio eradication is one of the goals of the Rotary Foundation — the charitable arm of Rotary International — and all members are encouraged to participate in the Rotary Foundation by making donations.” Roberts said Griffin started out at club level and moved up to district level.

“She was asked by a previous district governor to serve as the chair for the polio eradication drive,” he said. “She has a fairly wide reach with her service because it goes beyond our club to the whole district.” Griffin has received several awards for her efforts with Rotary. “I’ve won the citation for meritorious service, which is a real high honor. There are only 500 awarded a year out of 1.2 million Rotarians,” Griffin said. “In 2017, I won the regional service award for a polio free world, and I was one of 60 out of 1.2 million Rotarians.” Griffin said she has worked hard for the eradication of polio and will continue to do so.

“I want our world to be free of this dreaded disease,” she said. “It’s a passion of mine, and I will continue to work hard to make money for the Rotary Foundation so we can rid the world of this disease.”