Lifewatch: Polio Vaccination

WILMINGTON -- The Polio Vaccine marked the elimination of a crippling disease 52 years ago.

Henriette Von Trapp, 80 years old, lived through Polio as her famous husband pushed for a universal vaccination.  Now, she cherishes as much independence as her wheelchair will allow.

Every night, Henriette takes an antiquated elevator, installed just for her in the mid 1940's to get to her second floor bedroom.

Within days of giving birth to her second child, Henriette said she started having bad neck pain.

"And jokingly I remember getting back in to bed and making the remark, oh, maybe I have polio, jokingly, I was right on the button," said Henriette.

Days later, in September of 1947, Henriette became a confirmed case of polio.

Her husband was the town doctor, and was left to help care for their two small children while Henriette spent two months in what was known as an "iron lung."

"It's a tube and only your head is protruding, and they take care of you through portholes" said Henriette.

She credits the iron lung with saving her life, and she went on to have four more children with her husband, Dr. Rupert Von Trapp.  Not only was he the town doctor, he was also a member of the famous singing Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music.

While memories of her husband and his famous singing family are still vivid, so is the announcement that came 55 years ago: there was a way to prevent the disease that has left her forever crippled.

"Rupert was so determined, you know, I think Little Compton was one of the first towns certainly in New England to have it totally vaccinated, he went and had a free clinic," said Henriette.

Today, polio is thought of as a disease that once was.

Reported by Kristy Ondo