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A Life Without Boundaries

By Staff | Mar 24, 2011

Doug Oberman may still sleep in a respirator, but he dreams of eradicating polio forever. This is the beginning of the article, Iron Butterfly, by Kate Nolan, published in the December 2010 issue of Rotary magazine.

Doug, a Rotary Club member in Waterloo, shares his story to inspire others to work to end polio. Like all Rotarians worldwide, he works with the goal to see the day when polio is eradicated. In 1985, Rotary International established Polio Plus, a worldwide initiative to work towards the eradication of polio. Since then, the efforts of Rotary and its partners, more than two billion children have received oral polio vaccine and the number of polio cases has declined by 99-percent. The polio endemic has declined from over 125 countries in 1985 to four countries in 2010. Yet as long as polio outbreaks continue in these countries, international spread of poliovirus remains and everyone is at risk.

Doug Oberman was only eight years old when he contracted polio. He was in a coma for ten days and when he woke up he found he could not move his arms or legs. He spent 18 months in a polio ward at University of Iowa hospital, with three of those months spent in an iron lung.

Today, Doug still cannot use his arms and sleeps each night in an iron lung. He never recovered from the effects of polio, but with his family’s support and encouragement, he participated fully in life.

“Because I couldn’t use my arms, I had to use my brain,” he said.

He became a lawyer and joined Swisher &?Cohrt law firm in Waterloo in 1972. Doug joined the Rotary Club of Waterloo and became involved in raising money to eradicate polio throughout the world. He was the keynote speaker at the 2002 Rotary International Convention in Barcelona, Spain, doing his part to gain enthusiastic support for polio eradication.

Doug says his biggest concern is that people will not remember polio. Those who have known the disease won’t be around to raise funds to end it. That is why he is motivated to get the job done now. A child can be protected against polio for as little as 60-cents worth of vaccine. According to estimates, if the disease is not eliminated, 10 million children worldwide will be paralyzed in the next 40 years.

Doug commented, “I?have been blessed:?I’ve traveled quite a bit, had many opportunities and received a great education. I’ve never suffered from hunger; I’ve always had clean water to drink. I just haven’t used my arms for 57 years. Still, my body hasn’t determined who I am.”

Doug Oberman will share his personal story of the fight against polio, his worldwide efforts to eliminate the disease, and his hopes for a polio-free world this Sunday.?He will deliver a keynote address at 1:15 p.m. Sunday, March 27, at Emmetsburg High School Auditorium.

A free-will donation Whole Hog BBQ lunch will be held the same day from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the high school’s cafeteria. All donations will go directly to the Rotary International’s Polio Plus Program.