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Author Recalls Polio-Stricken Childhood at FDR’s Haven

Susan Richards Shreve discusses her memoir "Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven." The author was one of the last generation of Americans to suffer from polio.

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    To most older Americans, the reality of polio is at best a distant memory of parental fears. To millions of young people today, it's nothing more than a needle or a pill. To thousands of others, though, polio was a terrible, long-lasting, crippling legacy.

    Though polio has virtually disappeared in America, at its height in 1952, some 58,000 people were stricken with the sometimes fatal disease. It wasn't until 1955 that the Salk vaccine began to end its frightening reign.

    FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, Former President of the United States: I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt…


    The disease's most famous victim was Franklin Roosevelt, who contracted it in 1921. For the rest of his life he was unable to walk without help. The one place he found solace from his ever-present pain was at a former spa in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was so taken with the supposedly curative mineral waters and spirit of the place that he bought it and established it as a center for the rehabilitation of polio victims, many of whom were children.

    In her memoir, "Warm Springs," author and novelist Susan Shreve tells of her own two-year stay there beginning in 1950 when she was 11 years old. Stricken by polio as a baby, she went to Warm Springs for surgery and rehabilitation, which was eventually successful. We talked recently in her Washington, D.C., home, and I asked her first what it felt like when she arrived with all those kids around.

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