Salk Institute for Biological Studies: InsideSalk

Donor Gail Hoffman 'Remembers Polio'

It was 1947, just two years after World War II, when polio became personal for Gail Hoffman. She was 10 years old and remembers not being able to go to the movies, or go swimming in the lake.

The outbreak was especially bad that summer growing up in Rochester, New York, which caused her parents to be concerned when she developed a 105-degree fever that lasted for days.

"My mother panicked because she was sure that I had come down with polio," Hoffman says. "Although doctors initially suspected I had pneumonia, they admitted me into the hospital for further tests that would reassure her."

Many children had already died from the disease, and those who didn't would be left crippled from it. No public place seemed safe from polio and it was a frightening time for everyone, Hoffman says.

"When I arrived at the hospital, I thought that the nurses were being mean at first, but they were just so focused on caring for the war veterans who were there," she says. "It made such a huge impact on me because I was so young and there was so much going on."

After enduring a painful earache and undergoing extensive penicillin treatment, the doctors confirmed their original diagnosis. She and her parents were relieved that she didn't have polio, but the experience – which she described as "outstanding" – is one reason Hoffman makes a yearly donation to the Salk Institute.

She took the opportunity to encourage new gifts to the Institute when her friends asked her what she wanted for her birthday recently. "I didn't need another purse, so my birthday wish was that they make a donation to the Salk Institute," she says.

Her other source of motivation for giving comes from her father, who made it a Monday night ritual to visit the hospital and show movies to children who were in iron lungs.

Some of her friends who were diagnosed with polio when they were young are still feeling the effects today – yet another reason to give, she says. By 1960, she became a mother, which got her interested in the Salk Institute because she was grateful that she wouldn't have to worry about polio outbreaks like her mother did thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk.

As a result, her first donation, and many others after that, was mailed along with a note that reads: "Thank you, Dr. Salk, from a mother of four who remembers polio."

"It's important for me to continue to donate because I believed in Jonas Salk," Hoffman says. "The Institute is doing such wonderful research and I believe there's another answer in Salk."

InsideSalk 11|07 Issue | © Salk Institute for Biological Studies