End of an era; 57 year old polio survivor - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

End of an era; 57 year old polio survivor

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Mark Sternagen teaching a communications class at SDSU. Mark Sternagen teaching a communications class at SDSU.

This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the invention of the polio vaccine.  At its peak in the 1940s and 50's, polio would paralyze or kill over half a million people worldwide every year. In 1957 a little boy from Scotland, South Dakota caught this nasty virus which left him paralyzed.  Today at 57 he's one of the youngest survivors of polio and as Nancy Naeve Brown discovered, one in a million.

When Mark Sternhagen starts his weekly senior level communications class at South Dakota State University he always brings up what's highlighting headlines in the world of technology.  When I was there it was the iPhone 5. Mark has been a professor at SDSU for 27 years, at the age of 57 he is also one of the youngest survivors of polio.  When mark was only 18 months old he contracted the virus. He would spend his entire 2nd year of life in an Omaha hospital, part of that time in an iron lung which was a restrictive respirator commonly used back in the 50's.

"Honestly, I have no recollection of that. I remember a lot of pain at some point in being in the hospital. I don't remember much about it, "Mark said.

Dr. Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine in 1952.  Mass inoculations of 4 million school children started in 1955. Mark wasn't one of them.  When Mark got polio in 1957, that vaccine was hard to come by in his rural hometown of Scotland, South Dakota.

"Whenever they had it in town, I was either sick because if you were sick you couldn't get it. It was in short supply because after they found out I had it, a lot of people rushed to get it," Mark said.

For those who were vaccinated the impact was dramatic.  In the 1910 polio epidemic 6,000 people died in this country, 27,000 were left paralyzed.   By 1957, the cases of polio had decreased to less than 6,000. Mark doesn't waste time thinking about what ifs. What if he'd gotten vaccinated?  What if he wouldn't have been paralyzed, instead he focuses on what next.

"It led me to go further in school. I got the a point that whatever anyone says and the law says if I applied and someone else did they are going to hire the other person because it's easier. I realized I couldn't be as good as the next person. I had to be better," Mark said.

Mark went on to get a teaching degree, an EET (electronics engineering technology) degree and a masters in industrial management. Besides teaching ET, Mark also has a computer consulting business on the side.

"I try to maintain a positive attitude whether I'm teaching or computers or dealing with customers. I need to make the most of what I got and this is what I've got and it's not going to change," Mark said.

And what he's got is patience and perseverance.



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