How many people know that one of the past American presidents was paraplegic and used a wheelchair in private? This is a fact of history that is not generally known, as it was more or less kept under wraps at the time.
The inspirational political leader in question was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also known as FDR, the 32nd president of the USA, from 1933-1945. He was a very significant world figure in during the period of the Great Depression and World War Two. As the leader of the Democratic Party, his policies defined American liberalism during the middle part of the 20th century. He was related to President Theodore Roosevelt, who was his fifth cousin.
Although Roosevelt was such a powerful figure on the world stage, few people were fully aware of his physical disability. He became ill at the age of 39 whilst on vacation in Canada, after he fell into the water in the Bay of Fundy, contracting a disease characterised by paralysis, loss of sensation, fever, and bladder and bowel dysfunction, diagnosed as polio. (at least, that is how it was diagnosed at the time, but in retrospect it has been classified as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a type of paralysis affecting the peripheral nervous system which is often triggered by an infection, as it was in FDR's case.)
He gradually recovered from the major symptoms of all-over paralysis, but he mostly remained permanently paralysed from the waist downwards and had to walk with leg braces. His disability was mostly concealed from the public, and he only used a wheelchair in private. For the rest of his life he tried many therapies to cure his paralysis but none had any effect, so he accepted the fact that he was a permanent paraplegic.
After Roosevelt became President, he helped found the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now known as the March of Dimes), which initially focussed on the rehabilitation of victims of paralytic polio, and was instrumental in leading to the development of polio vaccines. He managed to convince most people that he was recovering from his illness, in order to retain their confidence so that he could run for public office, when in actual fact he was permanently paraplegic and used a wheelchair in private. He was very rarely photographed in his wheelchair, and his disability was seldom mentioned by him or anyone else, as it was not the custom of the time, even considered taboo. Many of the public were not even aware of his paralysis.
He sounds like one of the most impressive world leaders ever, not only in his political achievements, but also because of how bravely and stoically he dealt with his disability, and his legacy in the charity he co-founded, which has helped many disabled people.
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Picture courtesy of www.wikipedia.org