Vacationing with her family in the Catskills, three year old, curly-haired Chava Willig suddenly fell ill. Her parents heard the dreaded diagnosis “polio,” as Chava was placed into an iron lung.
After months of hospitalization, Chava was left paralyzed, requiring the use of a wheelchair. Nonetheless, her brilliant mind resulted in her love of books, music and writing. Like many families during that time, the Willigs were anxiously awaiting the release of the polio vaccine, what Chava now refers to as a “nes hashamayim.”
The vaccine came out in April of 1955, just a few months before Chava got sick, but unfortunately, the vaccine did not get to her in time. When Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the vaccine, announced that it was safe and effective, he was asked if he would pursue a patent for this life-saving measure. He replied, “Patent? Can you patent the sun? This vaccine belongs to everyone!”
Now a mother and grandmother, Chava has dedicated herself to advocacy, writing, speaking and describing her extraordinary experience while living a life “not with standing.” It’s easy to think that someone disabled by a vaccine-preventable disease might be bitter that a prevention exists now. However, Chava’s trademark resilience and Ahavas Yisrael leave no room for such negativity.
“As I shared in my video, ‘Welcome to My World,’ produced in collaboration with the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association (JOWMA), the polio vaccine is nothing short of a neis min hashamayim. It’s safe. It’s effective,” remarks Chava.
On Yaakov Langer’s Inspiration for the Nation, Chava discusses her life and advocacy work for people with disabilities. She also advocates strongly for the polio vaccine expressing sadness that some parents are reluctant to give it to their kids.
“I know that these people love their children, but they haven’t seen polio up close. People who have polio now and have no paralysis now may find in 30 years that there are things they can’t do,” says Chava.
To hear more of Chava’s extraordinary journey about her lifelong battle with polio, listen to Yaakov Langer’s Inspiration for the Nation Episode. For more information about polio, visit jowma.org/polio or call 929-4-GEZUNT.