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Local Rotary Clubs join effort to help eradicate the viral disease
When Jim Veccia was 16 years old, he went to bed with what he thought was a sprained back. He woke up the next morning unable to walk.
“I couldn’t even lift my head off the pillow,” said Veccia, a retired printing executive who lives on Hilton Head Island. He spent the next year in the hospital recovering from polio, a highly infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can lead to paralysis. That was in 1950, during the heyday of polio, an era when more than 50,000 cases were reported in the United States.
Thanks to immunizations developed less than a decade later, Veccia’s experience is now a scenario virtually unheard of in the United States — and in most other countries. However, in parts of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, polio is still endemic. “As long as polio threatens even one child anywhere in the world, all children — wherever they live — remain at risk,” according to Rotary International.
Rotary International has been committed to eradicating polio worldwide for the past 20 years, supporting immunization campaigns in developing countries. Recently, the organization has been working to raise $200 million to add to $355 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of that effort, five local Rotary Clubs kicked off their “Heel to Toe for Polio” campaign in August. The campaign, with a $50,000 goal, culminates Oct. 3 with a 2-mile walk on Coligny Beach.
“It is a major window of opportunity for Rotary to make the final push now,” said Bill Beltz, campaign organizer and president of the Okatie Rotary. “This is why we are so insistent and persistent in our efforts.”
Helen Ryan, a retired nurse and former principal of Hilton Head Island High School, and a Rotary member who has been helping spread the word about “Heel to Toe for Polio,” said the campaign has special meaning for her because, like Veccia, she is a polio survivor. “The walk is a perfect example of not only what Rotary can do, but how we can come together to solve a problem in world health,” she said.
In addition to boosting Rotary’s mission, the “Heel to Toe” walk will benefit the Coastal Empire Polio Survivors Association (CEPSA). Veccia, an active member of CEPSA, said that beyond spotlighting the eradication effort, the walk will be an opportunity for members of that group to share their experiences and resources, as well as reach out to other polio survivors. “Given the average age of Hilton Head residents, there have to be so many people here who were affected by the epidemic (in the 1950s),” he said.
The number of polio cases has decreased dramatically since Veccia and Ryan’s ordeals. And since 1988, polio cases have plummeted even more — 99 percent worldwide. But there is still 1 percent to go, and Rotary members are confident that, boosted by events like “Heel to Toe for Polio,” 100 percent isn’t out of reach. “This is a viral disease we can eliminate,” Ryan said.
Coastal Empire Polio Survivors Association, Inc. joined five Rotary Clubs in Hilton Head, South Carolina to put “Heel-to-Toe for Polio” in the Rotary worldwide pledged to raise $100 million toward the eradication of polio to be matched by another $200 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Our CEPSA Polio Team takes top fundraising honors on Saturday, October 3rd, at the “Heel-to-Toe for Polio” fundraiser walk at Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island, hosted by five Rotary Clubs. Our team raised more than $4,000 in donations, which was the most money raised by any group involved. Jim Veccia, CEPSA’s representative for the event was the top over all individual fundraiser, with $970. In all, the “Heel-to-Toe for Polio” walk was a great success raising $23,000 toward eradicating polio.
More than 40 CEPSA members, spouses, relatives, and friends came with our scooters and motorized wheelchairs to participate in the walk and do our part to help eradicate polio; most of us traveled from Savannah, Georgia. At the end of the walk on the way back to the starting station, some of our scooters were stalling… but everyone’s spirits were soaring as we worked together for the common goal to eradicate polio in the world!
HEEL TO TOE FOR POLIO
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2009
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Barbara Clark, 843.689-9669
Polio walk a success
They walked and scooted and some were on leashes and in strollers. Three hundred participants put heel to toe for polio at the inaugural polio walk today at Coligny Beach. Hosted by five area Rotary clubs, the walk raised $23,000 to eradicate polio.
The Coastal Empire Polio Survivors Association team took the top team honors with over $4,000 in donations. Jim Veccia of that group was the top “scooter”, with $970 in donations.
The walk was sponsored in part by Equity Payment, Inc, Boys Arnold Investments, Atlantic Pools and Beach First National Bank. The Rotary clubs involved included: The Bluffton Rotary Club, The Hilton Head Island Rotary Club, The Okatie Rotary Club, The Sunset Rotary Club and The Van Landingham Rotary Club.
TV Interview for Heel to Toe Event