HBO movie “The Normal Heart” and our history with polio

I just saw a very powerful movie called The Normal Heart. Directed by Ryan Murphy and based on a play by Larry Kramer, the movie portrays the AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s. I was immediately intrigued by the cast: Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons (whom we met at a Variety event last year) and my favorite, Julia Roberts, whose character uses a wheelchair.

Academy-award winning actress Julia Roberts plays a doctor who had polio as a child.

Academy-award winning actress Julia Roberts plays a doctor who had polio as a child.

Roberts plays Dr. Emma Brookner, a character based on Dr. Linda Laubenstein, a pioneer in AIDS research. When the AIDS epidemic started, Dr. Laubenstein was one of the very few doctors who treated people with AIDS. Laubenstein had severe asthma and weakness from childhood polio, an illness that required three major operations and left her paralyzed at age five. When Julia Roberts was interviewed about playing a character who had polio, she said, “This to me is a great reminder for all of us not to lose even a slight bit of our compassion toward one another.” Her story piqued my interest because it ties to what I have learned about Easter Seals’ history in treating people with polio.

In the early 1900s, the dramatic increase in polio cases caused the disease to be regarded as an epidemic. Thousands of children and adults were paralyzed by polio, and Easter Seals founder Edgar Allen raised funds and built a hospital where children with polio could stay and attend school classes. Children were also fitted with crutches and leg braces at the hospital.

Easter Seals still treClinic at Gates Hospital in Elyria, Ohio” width=ats people with post-polio syndrome: today, post-polio rehabilitation might involve help using braces, crutches, canes, wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment. Therapy might include regular exercise and help with flexibility, strengthening and conditioning exercises or modern therapies, like warm-water pools. I am proud to be part of an organization with such a rich history — and one that continues to provide exceptional services to people with disabilities and their families.

The Normal Heart premiered on May 25th, so you can still check it out on HBO.


 

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