Oldest Living Polio Survivors in the World

10 Oldest Living Polio Survivors in the World (Updated 2021)

Poliomyelitis, commonly called polio, was one of the most infectious diseases the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time major outbreaks occurred all over Europe and the United States and polio became the most worrying childhood disease in these areas. The first polio vaccine was not developed until the late 1950s by Jonas Salk and as a result thousands of children and adults contracted the disease. Fortunately, many people recovered from polio and have had long lives, including all of the people on this list.

Since no one really keeps track of polio survivors worldwide, the majority of notable polio survivors are from western countries. Additionally, nearly everyone on this list is a celebrity.

As of August 2021, the information on this list is as accurate as possible and will be updated as needed. 

10. Alan Alda (January 28, 1936 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 85 years, 6 months, 6 days
Country of Origin: The Bronx, New York, USA
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: 7 years
Occupation(s): Actor, Author, Director, Screenwriter, and Comedian

Alan Aldaphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Alan Alda, six-time Emmy Award winner and one of the stars of  hit TV series M*A*S*H*, is another celebrity that was stricken with polio as a child. Alda contracted polio when he was just seven years old. Like the oldest polio survivor on this list, Alda beat his polio because his parents applied Kenny therapeutic treatments, which were experimental and controversial at the time. Alda said that his battle with polio was rough because his parents could not afford a nurse and had to apply the treatments themselves for six months. The treatments included having scalding blankets wrapped around his limbs every hour and stretching his muscles. Of course, Alda survived and has had a long and successful Hollywood career.

Did You Know?

In a recent interview, Alan Alda said that his polio treatment, which was invented by a woman named Sister Elizabeth Kenny, is one of the biggest reasons he became a feminist.

9. John Laws (August 8, 1935 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 85 years, 11 months, 26 days
Country of Origin: Wau, Papua New Guinea (grew up in Australia)
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: Contracted twice, once as a child and again as a teenager (ages unspecified)
Occupation(s): Radio Presenter

photo source: realestate.com.au

John Laws is one of the few non-Americans on this list of oldest living polio survivors. Laws is the only survivor on this list who contracted polio twice, once as a child and a second time as a teenager. Somehow, Laws recovered well both times and has gone on to live a full life.

Laws started his radio career in 1953 when he was only about 17 years old. Over the years, Laws also dabbled in acting in TV shows and also recorded music. From the 1970s until his retirement in 2007, Laws hosted an Australian morning radio program combining music with interviews, opinion, live advertising readings and listener talkback.

Did You Know?

John Laws has such a distinctive voice that he was nicknamed “the Golden Tonsils.”

8. Tenley Albright (July 18, 1935 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 86 years, 16 days
Country of Origin: Newton Centre, Massachusetts, USA
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: 11 years
Occupation(s): Former Olympic Figure Skater and Surgeon

Tenley Albrightphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Tenley Albright is another polio survivor who went on to live an extraordinary life. Albright first learned to figure skate when she was six, but was suddenly unable to walk when she contracted polio at the age of 11. Luckily, it was a mild case and Albright recovered quickly and won the Eastern United States Juvenile Ladies Figure Skating competition. Albright continued her figure skating career as a teen and young adult and she went on to win two Olympic medals (one gold and one silver) and four World Championship medals (two gold and two silver).

Following her figure skating career, Albright became a surgeon and practiced for 23 years. She then continued as a faculty member and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. Currently, Albright is the Director of the MIT Collaborative Initiatives.

Did You Know?

At the 1956 Winter Olympics, Tenley Albright became the first American female skater to win an Olympic gold medal.

7. Donald Sutherland (July 17, 1935 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 86 years, 17 days
Country of Origin: Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: Childhood (age unspecified)
Occupation(s): Actor

Donald Sutherlandphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Donald Sutherland is one of many famous actors who were stricken with polio as a young child and survived to live a long life. Sutherland was unfortunately a sickly child and also had rheumatic fever and hepatitis. However, there was not too much lasting damage from Sutherland’s illnesses, but one of his legs is shorter than the other due to polio.

Sutherland eventually got stronger and was able to attend university, where he graduated with degrees in engineering and drama. After graduating from school, Sutherland pursued an acting career and has become one of the greatest actors of all time. Sutherland is also the father of actors Kiefer Sutherland, Rossif Sutherland, and Angus Sutherland.

Did You Know?

The first word that Donald Sutherland learned to say was “neck” because of the pain he had there due to polio and his other illnesses.

6. Dennis Washington (July 27, 1934 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 87 years, 7 days
Country of Origin: Spokane, Washington, USA
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: 8 years
Occupation(s): Billionaire Industrialist

Dennis Washingtonphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Dennis Washington is a self-made billionaire, who made his money in the construction industry. Washington had polio when he was just eight years old, but recovered well and is now just a footnote in his interesting life. Always self-sufficient, Washington worked odd jobs as a teenager to earn money. After high school, Washington got a job in heavy construction and by the time he was 26, he was vice president of the largest construction company in Montana.

A few years later, Washington started his own company, which grew into one of the largest public design/build construction companies in the U.S. Today, The Washington Companies, include environmental remediation, heavy equipment sales, the largest privately owned railroad in the U.S., and one of the largest marine transportation companies in Canada.

Did You Know?

Dennis Washington and his wife Phyllis Washington started the charitable Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation in 1988 and have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various causes.

5. Leonard Kriegel (May 25, 1933 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 88 years, 2 months, 9 days
Country of Origin: Bronx, New York, USA
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: 11 years
Occupation(s): Author

Leonard Kriegelphoto source: Beacon Press

Author Leonard Kriegel is one of the few polio survivors on this list who had long-lasting affects from the illness. Kriegel contracted polio at the age of 11, which left him confined to steel braces and crutches. He never regained the use of his legs, which made him angry. Kriegel also refers to himself as a “cripple.” However, Kriegel has used this anger and disability as a subject in his writing, including his very first novel, The Long Walk Home (1964).

Did You Know?

Leonard Kriegel has received the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships and three of his books have been named New York Times Notable Books of the Year.

4. Alex Cord (May 3, 1933 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 88 years, 3 months
Country of Origin: Floral Park, New York, USA
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: 12 years
Occupation(s): Former Actor

Alex Cordphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

Retired actor Alex Cord is another polio survivor who recovered well due to therapeutic physical activity. Cord was 12 when he was stricken with polio and after his family moved to Wyoming, doctors suggested advised him to start horseback riding. This helped Cord fully recover from polio by the time he was 16. Additionally, horseback riding helped Cord land roles in Western films. Of all his roles, Cord is best known for playing Michael Coldsmith Briggs III, aka Archangel in TV series Airwolf (1984 – 1986).

Did You Know?

In addition to acting, Alex Cord has written three published novels: Sandsong, A Feather in the Rain, and bestseller, The Man Who Would Be God. Cord has also written and sold three screenplays.

3. Katherine Jackson (May 4, 1930 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 91 years, 2 months, 30 days
Country of Origin: Clayton, Alabama, USA
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: 2 years
Occupation(s): Matriarch of the Jackson Family

Katherine Jacksonphoto source: eonline.com

Katherine Jackson, the matriarch of the famed Jackson Family, is the last of the current polio survivors in the their 90s. Of everyone else on this list, Jackson was very young, at the age of two, when she contracted polio. Since Jackson was still at a critical developmental age, polio left her with a noticeable limp that she still has today.

Jackson met her late husband Joseph Jackson in 1947 and the couple went on to have 10 kids. Many of the Jackson kids went on to become musicians with Michael and Janet Jackson becoming the most famous. In recent years, Jackson has lived a relatively quiet life in the care of one of her grandsons.

Did You Know?

As a child, Katherine Jackson wanted to be an actress or country singer, but said that there were no notable black country stars for her to look up to.

2. Bud Grant (May 20, 1927 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 94 years, 2 months, 14 days
Country of Origin: Superior, Wisconsin, USA
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: 10 years
Occupation(s): NFL Player (wide receiver and defensive end) and NFL Coach; former NBA Player

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Pro Football Hall of Famer Bud Grant is the second oldest living polio survivor at 94 years of age. Grant contracted polio when he was 10 and a doctor suggested he take up sports to strengthen his weakened leg muscles over time. As soon as he was able to, Grant took the doctor’s advice and played baseball, basketball, and football. He continued to play all three sports in college and was drafted by both the NBA and NFL after graduating.

Initially, Grant played in the NBA, but after two seasons he decided to join the NFL. Grant only stayed as a player for a few years, before starting a long career as head coach for the Minnesota Vikings. Grant is still going strong and was interviewed recently saying that he has been lying low as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

Did You Know?

Bud Grant is the most successful coach in Minnesota Vikings history and the third most successful professional football coach overall (behind Don Shula and George Halas), with a combined 283 wins in the NFL and CFL (Canadian Football League).

1. Marguerite Scarry (November 12, 1921 – Present)

Current Age (as of August 2021): 99 years, 8 months, 22 days
Country of Origin: Staunton, Virginia, USA
Age at Time of Polio Diagnosis: 23 years
Occupation(s): Budget Analyst for the FAA

Marguerite Scarryphoto source: Reader Submission

Marguerite Scarry, who is still going strong at the age of 99, is currently the oldest living polio survivor in the world. Scarry’s story was brought to our attention when her great-niece, Patricia Spencer, sent us an email and included newspaper clippings about Scarry’s miraculous story. Unlike the other polio survivors on this list, who were all children when they contracted polio, Scarry was a young adult when she was diagnosed with polio. Additionally, Scarry was pregnant at the time of her diagnosis, but thankfully she gave birth to a healthy, polio-free son.

While Scarry did recover from polio, it left her with permanent paralysis of her left leg. According to her great-niece Patricia, this disability did not slow Scarry down and she has lived a full life and even worked as a budget analyst for the FAA.

Did You Know?

According to one of the newspaper clippings sent in by Patricia Spencer, Marguerite Scarry had a normal birth because she had been receiving Kenny therapeutic treatments, which were developed by Australian nurse Sister Elizabeth Kenny and the basis for what would become the field of rehabilitation medicine.



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