While polio adversely affected Ann Lee Hussey's ability to walk for most of her life, this survivor had no problem Saturday holding an audience's attention in the palm of her hand.
"I feel extremely fortunate to be standing here tonight," Hussey to those in attendance at the Rotary International District 5830's 2019 Foundation Dinner at the North Ridge Country Club.
"My struggle with polio started when I just 7 months old," she said, "I spent several months in the hospital with my mom massaging my legs to help me move. Back then, I would have to go to rehab three times a week. My right leg was shorter than my left leg, and until 2009, it was a challenge to climb up stairs.
"I had to live with the taunting of other children while growing up."
Hussey, who works as a veterinary technician in South Berwick, Maine, then spoke of a momentous journey to India.
"In January of 2001, I witnessed the damage that polio was still bringing to places like India," she said. "I was saddened to see this and I felt very lucky to have been stricken with polio in the U.S. instead of having it happen in the slums of India. While I was over there, I'm not ashamed to say that I cried. But since that trip, I have taken 30 other trips to 10 countries. These trips have exposed me to the many challenges that polio presents around the world."
However, Hussey, who is a member of the Rotary Sunrise Club of Portland, Maine, added that she's impressed with the way that contemporary mobile devices have aided polio victims in finding employment.
Hussey serves as an adviser to Rotary's International PolioPlus Committee. She shared a personal story about a child she met while traveling.
"Once I was in a nursery with 4-year-old children," she said. "When I began placing (polio immunization) droplets in one child's mouth, I felt touched by the way he looked at me and he said, 'Auntie, Thank You.' At that moment, I thought that that little boy must have thought that I travelled half-way around the world just to meet him."
Hussey, who is also a Rotary representative on the Global Polio Eradication Transition Management Group, then encouraged her Rotarian audience to keep up the good work with fundraising throughout the world in the fight against polio.
"Our program faces many challenges, but we persevere," she said. "Rotary is at it's best when it reaches out all over the world. Sometimes the longest journey we have to take is just in the amount of space that separates our heads from our hearts. I ask that you continue to put your passion into action. We don't see a person's skin color or religion—we just see people who need help. We are part of the largest peacetime movement in history, and together, we see a world where people take action."