May 09, 2005

Recalling the many Pittsburghers who joined Dr. Salk's effort to fight polio

May 2nd’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette includes the following letter to the editor from Jane Scully rsm:

I much appreciated your coverage last month of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the polio vaccine and Dr. Jonas Salk's role in that historic event. I read your many articles with great interest.

Recently, I saw the C-SPAN program with Jeffrey Kluger telling the story of his research in writing his work "Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio." I, with thousands of others in Pittsburgh, lived through the terrible polio epidemic. We all experienced the universal fear that closed all movie houses, cancelled ball games and reduced attendance of Sunday church services.

Then as a young Sister of Mercy, I learned from other sisters of Dr. Salk's urgent appeal for research assistants for his numerous labs and for nurses to care for the afflicted children crowded on the third floor of the old, dreary Municipal Hospital. Several Sisters of Mercy responded immediately: Sister Sara Marie Healy and Sister Xavieria Parsons, both superb nurses who with hot towels and warm baths -- the only care known at that time -- worked long hours to relieve the unrelenting panic of so many small children.

And from the then Mount Mercy College (now Carlow University) just one block west of the hospital, came Angela Laurent, a research specialist who worked side by side with Dr. Salk and is mentioned in Kluger's book. Other Mount Mercy graduates -- Mary Lynch Bailey, M.D. and Doris Tobin, M.D. -- were high-level directors of Salk's many research teams.

This is the time for gratitude for all those Pittsburgh people, from Mayor David Lawrence, who made more space available for Salk's work, to all the nurses and aides who helped save the children. We honor their memory and thank God for the vaccine that saved so many lives.

The writer is the president emeritus of Carlow University.

Micaela Young
Sisters of Mercy, Pittsburgh

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