Fighting against polio: one vaccination at a time

December 5, 2012

For 20 years, the Arlington Heights resident has traveled there to help fight polio.

Once again, it's time for Stitt to get ready for what has become a semi-regular trip to Nigeria.

"I'm lucky that I'm able to do this at the age of 87," she said. "I hope I can keep on.

A map in her den shows all the countries the grandmother of eleven has visited, many on humanitarian missions embarked on behalf of Rotary International's world-wide fight against polio.

She's traveled to India or Africa eight times to help immunize children against the disease.

"Growing up as a child I had experience with people having polio and dying from it, very rapidly," Stitt said.

A retired principal from an Arlington Heights elementary school that now bears her name, Stitt helps sponsor wheelchairs, made out of recycled bicycle parts, for those crippled by the disease.

"We'd gone to the market and on the ground was a woman crawling, crawling on the ground. I can still see her. Anything I can do to help," she said.

Although only three countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan still have cases of polio, the fight to eradicate the disease continues, according to the director of their PolioPlus program Carol Pandak.

"While there is polio anywhere in the world all children are immunized against it," Pandak said. "Children in the United States continue to be immunized because polio exists elsewhere. Polio can travel. It's only a plane ride away."

It is because of people like Mary, the efforts of Rotary International and countless others that polio has almost been eradicated worldwide. Since 1985 the number of cases reported has declined from 350,000 to just over 200 this year.

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