Ann Lee Hussey has made the eradication of polio and the alleviation of suffering by polio survivors her life’s work. She has shared her story hundreds of times, carrying the message of PolioPlus around the Rotary world and beyond, raising money and creating new converts to the fight. She is determined that no child will needlessly suffer what she herself has been through.
By Kylie Hatfield
Ann Lee Hussey was only 17 months old when she contracted polio, three months after the public release of the disease’s vaccine in 1955. Following years of physical therapy, multiple surgeries and braces, Ann Lee walks with limitations, and has spent the past 20 years travelling internationally to save other children from the crippling effects of the disease.
As a member of the Rotary Club of Portland Sunrise, in Maine, US, Ann Lee has undertaken 30 international immunisation missions, 26 of which she led, and describes immunising children as a priority that brings both personal satisfaction and life-changing experiences.
“Polio has a much different impact on those in the developing world, where lack of access to surgical interventions, physical therapy and mobility devices create a far more physically disabled individual, not to mention the mental health toll on individuals being hidden or shunned by community members when they are in public,” she said.
Ann Lee also works with the PolioPlus committee in each country she visits, and meets with partners including the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Gates Foundation, as well as government officials.
Living with the disabling impact of polio, Ann Lee suffers a physical toll with each trip she takes.
“There is much greater exertion for my legs, for my body, and a slower recovery period than for those who travel with me who are not polio survivors. Travel in the developing world is not for the faint of heart. It is a sacrifice I choose to make and will continue to do as long as I am able; it means that much to me.”
During her travels, Ann Lee draws on her own experience with polio and the scars it has left to spread her important message.
“It means caring enough to give of your physical self, your time and your resources to help people; realising that your work with one group or in one area sends ripples out to assist people you may never meet, communities you may never visit.”
“In my earlier trips to India and Nigeria, speaking to parents as a polio survivor, I would often remove my socks and shoes to show the effect polio has had on my feet and legs and the surgery scars,” she said. “Most were surprised that, being from the United States, I could have polio. It made an impression.”
The current global pandemic has brought Ann Lee’s efforts closer to home, as she volunteers at a local hospital’s COVID vaccine clinic.
But that hasn’t stopped her from providing support to those in need internationally, having secured a Rotary Foundation global grant for just under $100,000 for an Infectious Disease Unit in Nigeria.
With her ultimate goal being the worldwide eradication of polio, Ann Lee describes feeling a great sense of pride when wild poliovirus is eradicated in countries she has worked in. The polio-free certification of the African continent last August was a “momentous occasion” for her.
“I am grateful to have played a small role in Africa’s success. Hard work and continued financial support does pay off; we just have to be willing to be patient. Good things take time,” she said.
“I believe polio eradication will be one of our greatest gifts to all future generations. And when that happens, I will feel relief coupled with immense gratitude.”
The significant care Ann Lee shows to others suffering from or at risk of polio exemplifies humanitarianism, which she says she has also benefited from.
“It means caring enough to give of your physical self, your time and your resources to help people; realising that your work with one group or in one area sends ripples out to assist people you may never meet, communities you may never visit,” she said.
“I have grown and become a better person, a better human being, because I was willing to take a chance, to reach out to others.”
Ann Lee Hussey is one of many great humanitarians whose stories will inspire you at this year’s Zone 8 Conference, September 11-12. Register now at rotaryzone8.org