In 1954, at the age of 8, I visited a hospital wing that was full of iron lungs. For those of you too young to remember that era, allow me to explain exactly what iron lungs were.

Imagine your child inside an iron barrel, roughly 8 feet long by 3 feet wide, laying flat on his or her back and looking at their visitors through a mirror as a mechanical pump forced air into the chamber, which was the only way for those children to survive.

That was the era of polio, which terrorized a whole generation. These children laying on their backs for 24 hours a day had been stricken by a virus so deadly that without that iron lung, they would die gasping for breath.

A year earlier, Dr. Jonas Salk had developed a vaccine that saved many of us from spending our lives in those iron lungs. A year before that, in 1952, there were 58,000 new polio cases reported in the United States and more than 3,000 died from the disease.

So at 8 years old, I joined the March of Dimes, walking the neighborhoods with my little card with slots for dimes. Every dime I collected was another dime for a vaccine, a cure. You see, I desperately wanted to help those children to escape from those iron lungs that kept them trapped, barely alive.

Not once did anybody refuse, and most gave dollars instead of dimes. Not one person told me that the polio virus was a made-up disease, a fake, that I was wasting my time collecting dimes for a nonexistent disease made up by a political party to harm a Republican president.

Now, once again, children are dying, their tiny lungs gasping for air, too young to understand their parent’s political beliefs. Over 600,000 deaths total in the United States — too many lost because one political party refuses to acknowledge the severity of the disease. How many young lives are the deniers willing to sacrifice to maintain their power?

So, the next time your representative has a town hall meeting, ask him or her if they’ve had their shots. Surprise, most politicians have been vaccinated, including our past president, yet some still deny the severity of the virus. And while you’re at it, ask those same politicians if they are going to vaccinate their children. The answer shouldn’t surprise you.

Daryl West has lived in New Mexico for over 40 years. He resides in Mineral Hill.

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