When Charlie Wagner's daughter, Christine, first started feeling weak and complaining of severe headaches, back and neck pain in the fall of 1949, doctors were puzzled. After all, it wasn't the season for polio. Poliomyelitis usually struck children in the late spring. But after several spinal taps, the Wagners' worst fears were confirmed and their relentless fight to cure Chris began. And so was the founding of the Rochester-Press Radio Club.
"I remember when my parents told me I had Polio. The first thing I asked them was if I would ever walk again - they couldn't answer me," Wagner recently shared. Between Strong Memorial and the Children's Convalescent, she went through almost a year of hospitalization. The only time she was allowed to go home was for Christmas.
"Chris had severe polio," her dad the late Times-Union newsman Charlie Wagner, recalled before his death. "We didn't know if she would walk again."
Hospital expenses were high, but the Polio Foundation paid the bills for all polio victims. That so impressed Times-Union sports editor Matt Jackson (Wagner's boss at the time) that he suggested raising money for the foundation.
The Press-Radio Club was formed by 12 local print and radio sports reporters, and its first money-raising effort was a basketball game between local press and radio personalities between halves of a Rochester Royals National Basketball Association game. The following year, a capacity crowd was at the first fund-raising dinner at the old Seneca Hotel on South Clinton Avenue near East Main Street.
The club's first celebrity dinner honored the all-time greats of the Rochester Red Wings.
"But you could only do that once," Wagner said.
So the club tied in with the old Hickok Manufacturing Co. and staged a dinner where the national professional athlete of the year received the jewel-studded Hickok Belt.
"At 12-years-old, all I could wonder was who would ever wear a belt like the Hickok Belt," says ChrisWagner, now known as Chris Welch. Welch did walk again and went on to live a very normal and happy life. As a matter of fact, she's been married over 50 years, has four children and nine grandchildren. She's a witness to what giving can do for a child.
However, although Welch was cured of Polio as a child, she began suffering from Post Polio Syndrome about five years ago. "People don't realize there are many survivors of polio who are suffering the late effects of the disease. Muscles that were destroyed in our childhood have forced our healthy muscles to perform 'double duty' throughout our lives - wearing out our good muscles. And this is only one reason for the recent pain we are experiencing." Welch says the symptoms are the same as when she was a child: extreme fatigue and pain in her knees and legs. "I can't go places where I have to walk for a long duration of time unless I have a wheelchair. I know that eventually, I will probably need one all of the time."
Doctors don't give many answers to those who currently suffer from Post Polio Syndrome. Many of the doctors that treated polio have since passed away, so research is the only hope these survivors have.
We honor Chris Welch for her strength and courage, and for being the spark that began a wonderful charitable organization, that has given over a million dollars to local children's charities. We also would like to take a moment to thank her dad, Charlie, for his instrumental role in making it all happen.