What to Know About Polio | A Farm Boy's Polio Memoir | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

What to Know About Polio

Limping Through Life: A Farm Boy's Polio Memoir

What to Know About Polio | A Farm Boy's Polio Memoir | Wisconsin Historical Society
Enlarge Cover of Jerry Apps Limping Through Life


In "Limping Through Life" Jerry Apps details his struggles with polio, from the day he contracted the disease at the age of 12 to his current life as a polio survivor. Use memoirs in the classroom to help meet non-fiction requirements of the Common Core Standards.

"Limping Through Life" is appropriate for readers 6th grade and higher, and would be an excellent teacher read-aloud for younger students.

Below are some facts to share with your classroom about polio and post-polio syndrome.

  • Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system.
  • Because polio has no cure, vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and the only way to stop the disease from spreading. Approximately 95% of people infected with polio have no symptoms.
  • Fewer than 1% of polio cases result in permanent paralysis of the limbs (usually the legs). Of those paralyzed, 5–10% die when the paralysis strikes the respiratory muscles. The death rate increases with age.
  • Poliovirus is commonly found in sewage water and is generally transmitted by eating food or drinking liquids contaminated with the virus.
  • The first recorded polio epidemic in the United States occurred in Vermont in 1894.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt contacted polio in 1921, when he was 39. It left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
  • From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, polio crippled approximately 35,000 people in the United States each year.
  • The worst polio year on record was 1952, when more than 57,000 cases were reported.
  • The polio vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk, became widely available in 1955, resulting in a rapid drop in polio cases.
  • The United States was declared polio free in 1979.
  • Polio still exists and is considered widespread in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
  • Poliovirus has reappeared and continues to spread in Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a condition that affects many polio survivors years after recovering from an initial attack of the virus.
  • The most common symptoms of PPS include slowly progressing muscle weakness, fatigue, and a gradual decrease in the size of muscles (muscle atrophy).
EnlargeJerry Apps


Jerry Apps, author of "Limping Through Life," contracted polio in 1947. In his book he chronicles his times before, during, and after the disease, as well as his struggles with post-polio syndrome. Read more about Jerry Apps and Limping Through Life on our website.

1 Facts from the Centers for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov/polio/about/index.htm; the National Institutes of Health, http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/post_polio/detail_post_polio.htm; and David M. Oshinsky, Polio and the American Story (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).