Garden of Bellevue Hospital, c. 1955
Photo taken in the garden of Bellevue Hospital, circa 1955. This child most likely had polio. On June 27, 1927, Bellevue Hospital was the recipient of the first iron lung ever used for the treatment of paralytic poliomyelitis. (June 27th is sometimes commemorated as “Iron Lung Day.”) Iron lungs were still in use at Bellevue until well into the 1970s. During the peak years of polio, in the 1930s and 1940s, patients were usually transferred to the Willard Parker Hospital for Infectious Diseases on the Lower East Side.
The use of iron lungs decreased once the polio vaccines of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin became available. Both Salk and Sabin received their medical training at NYU and did most of their medical rotations at Bellevue. Salk’s injectable “killed” vaccine was introduced and licensed in 1955. This was the first effective vaccine to prevent the paralytic complications of polio. Sabin’s 1961 oral “live” vaccine led to further reductions in spread of the disease. Together, these vaccines have eliminated naturally occurring polio from the Western Hemisphere and from nearly the entire world.