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Effects of a childhood scourge remain

Though mostly conquered thanks to vaccine, sufferers have spent lifetimes dealing with ravages of the polio virus

Tuesday is World Polio Day and Gary Pratt of Lawton knows about polio firsthand.

He was 2 years old when he contracted poliomyelitis, a paralyzing and potentially fatal disease that still threatens children in some parts of the world. The poliovirus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. It can strike at any age but mainly affects children under 5. Polio is incurable, but vaccine-preventable.

When Pratt contracted polio, there was no approved vaccine available to the public.

"I'm right handed and they noticed I started playing with all my toys with my left hand," Pratt said. "The doctor thought I had fallen and injured my shoulder in some way. It just kept getting worse. That's when they discovered it was polio. I do not remember it at all."

Pratt's mother, 90-year-old Betty Pratt, said when he woke up with a fever she called the doctor.

"He was subject to tonsillitis when he had a cold," Betty said. "But this was July. We had heard and seen in the paper about this virus going around. They were notifying the parents to be careful with their children because some of them were being paralyzed. Of course, that's the first thing you think of. So I called the doctor and he said, 'No, don't bring him in. I'll come out there. So he came to the house and that's what he thought it was. The symptoms on all the other patients with polio were either lung or stomach infections, and he didn't have either. So he thought it was just his regular cold. Then, like Gary said, he began to play with toys with his left hand. So I called the doctor and I said, 'I think you need to come out here.' He knew then what was wrong when he came out. He immediately got on the phone and called Sparks Hospital in Fort Smith, Ark."

The Lawton Constitution

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