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Polio survivor to be honorary chair of Rotary conference - Three-day Rotary District Conference to take place in Fallbrook Oct. 21-24

At 67 years of age, Jack Campbell says his goal is “to see polio dead before I am.” A significant quest, Campbell, a polio survivor and member of Escondido Rotary Club, just might emerge victorious if the efforts by Rotary International and others continue as ferociously as they have in recent years.

“The world is currently spending about a billion dollars a year to get rid of polio, and as soon as we get rid of it, we can spend those resources on fighting another disease,” said Campbell. Polio is an acute viral contagious disease that, if it enters the bloodstream and central nervous system can destroy motor neurons, leading to muscle weakness and paralysis. Spinal polio usually results in paralysis affecting the legs.

Campbell has been named honorary chairman for the annual Rotary District Conference for San Diego and Imperial counties, organized by District Governor Dave Breeding that will take place this year from October 21-24 with the host being Rotary Club of Fallbrook.

“Jack was selected as honorary chair of this year’s conference because of all of his past work in raising funds for polio eradication; his story is one that exemplifies the commitment that Rotary International has to eradicate this terrible disease,” said Bob Franz, chairman of this year's conference and a member of Rotary Club of Fallbrook.

With Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio taking the forefront at the conference, it is no surprise that Campbell was chosen to address the 250 expected guests along with other guest speakers, Dr. Peter Salk (son of polio vaccine developer Dr. Jonas Salk), orthopedic specialist and surgeon Dr. Joe Serra, and polio survivor Ann Lee Hussey of Maine, all passionate in the international fight against polio.

Campbell is approaching the 62-year point in dealing with the results of contracting polio at age five. While he feels he has “blocked out” many of his experiences in the early years of treatment, he does remember how quickly the polio virus struck him.

“I was fine one day; went to bed tired; and the next day I couldn’t get out of bed,” explained Campbell, who said he was then taken to Los Angeles County General Hospital where he was placed alongside many other polio patients in an isolation ward.

“Some of the big rooms had up to 30 polio victims each,” said Campbell, who added that he was immediately placed into an iron lung due to the difficulty he was having breathing.

“I was in the iron lung for one month,” he noted.

Campbell said while he doesn’t recall many details from that time, he does remember the overall feeling he experienced in the early days.

“It was very painful at the beginning with all the things they were doing to me,” said Campbell. “

makes you feel like you have no muscles at all and you end up feeling like you are just hibernating until it’s over.”

Campbell said he does recall lying for hours on end “hot and tired, wishing it would go away.” After his time in the iron lung, Campbell was transferred to another hospital where he remained an in-patient for six months and eventually was able to go home to spend the nights.

“After that, I was sent to a rehabilitation hospital where I spent most of my days doing exercises, swimming, physical and occupational therapy, gym workouts, and stretching my muscles,” he said. “They were essentially doing everything they could to help me recover.” And that went on five years, until he was about 10 years old.

School for Campbell meant being tutored. “During all those years, I had an hour with a tutor three times each week and that was enough. When I came out, I was actually a year ahead of schedule <academically>.” When his junior high school years approached, Campbell was able to attend school and was pushed there in his wheelchair each morning by a neighborhood friend and transported by taxi after school to therapy sessions from which his mother later picked him up.

Life was complicated for Campbell, but that didn’t deter him from completing his high school education in 1959 and going on to college.

“I graduated from high school in a full length body cast,” said Campbell.

“I went to UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and got both my bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics,” explained Campbell.

A gifted student, who was offered a position as a programmer and then promoted to programming supervisor, Campbell worked for the college initially.

“Then, one of the kids I had been supervising went to work for IBM; shortly after that, this student called me and said they needed my skills at IBM and that I should apply,” said Campbell, who did just that.

“I applied and even though I couldn’t pass their physical, they offered me a job in their jet propulsion lab working on a surveyor project for moon landings and the photographic process,” he said.

Campbell’s specialty was studying the mathematical imperfections in the camera lenses used to shoot photographs of the moon and writing programs to make those photographs as clear as possible. He dedicated 17 years to IBM, after which he began his own computer software company and began writing programs for IBM personal computers.

After selling his business in 1995, Campbell elected to retire and move from the Los Angeles area to Escondido.

In Escondido, he not only joined Escondido Rotary and has actively served in a variety of positions he issued an initial challenge to his fellow members. Campbell said if the club could raise $20,000 to donate to the effort to eradicate polio worldwide, he would match it. Not only did the club meet Campbell’s challenge, other ones in the area joined in to raise a total of $140,000.

“That was enough to inoculate all 400,000 children in the country of Eritrea and eradicate the disease there,” said Campbell. Eritrea is a country located in the Horn of Africa.

As far as continued therapy for his post-polio condition, Campbell said that came to a halt 20 years ago.

“At that time I was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, the theory was that the muscles were being overworked and at that point I was advised to do as little as possible to conserve those muscles,” he said.

Of his current condition, Campbell said after a lifetime that has included a total of eight surgeries, he continues to get weaker.

“But I think I’m getting weaker slower than if I was pushing [my muscles],” he said. “Six years ago I began having problems getting around in my wheelchair, so I went to a motorized chair.”

Campbell may be feeling weaker, but his community commitments remain strong. He has been seated on the Escondido Planning Group since 2001 and currently holds the position of vice chair.

Serving as the honorary chairman of the Rotary District Conference will be a pleasure for him, Campbell said.

“I think this Rotary district and Dave Breeding have come up with a good idea in combining different events we’ve usually done throughout the year into one weekend of events,” said Campbell.

Campbell also said the fact that local Rotarians are opening up their homes for visiting ones to stay at is a positive thing.

“Our club members are offering their homes to out of town Rotarians so that we can build fellowship and give them a flavor of the Friendly Village,” verified Franz.

The conference will include a luncheon with break-out sessions, a barbecue evening, gala masquerade ball, golf tournament, and optional tours of Fallbrook’s art scene, Camp Pendleton’s historic Ranch House, Wild Wonders Zoofari in Bonsall, Olive Hill Greenhouses, Vessels Stallion Farm, tour of a master quilter’s home, and other opportunities such as a golf tournament, hiking and wine tasting.

Of the success of Rotarians and other organizations’ efforts to eradicate polio worldwide, Campbell provided reports that said the remaining countries that eradication is needed in are Pakistan, Nigeria, India and Afghanistan. The financial support toward the effort has paid off.

“By 2013, Rotary International will have contributed more than $1.2 billion to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative,” he said.

Franz said this year’s conference is organized to help meet the ultimate goal.

“The most exciting aspect of this year’s conference is that is focuses on finishing the job [of eradicating polio].”

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