Days Gone ByThese days we’re concerned about the H1N1 virus, but 60 years ago infantile paralysis or poliomyelitis (polio), was the medical crisis of the times.
By: Pat Hunter, Archivist, River Falls Journal
These days we’re concerned about the H1N1 virus, but 60 years ago infantile paralysis or poliomyelitis (polio), was the medical crisis of the times. With no cure and no obvious cause, people were terrified of it. Many thousands died — mostly children and the young, and those who lived through it were often left disabled. A vaccine to prevent its spread wasn’t developed until the mid-1950s by Dr. Jonas Salk.
One of the most remarkable and heartbreaking stories happened to a young River Falls couple — William and Anne Stapleton Wells.
In 1949, Anne, age 22, was stricken with polio during her pregnancy, rushed to Kenny Institute in Minneapolis and placed in an “iron lung.” The respirator machine did her breathing for her.
On Nov. 6, 1949, David William Haleson Wells became the first area baby born in an iron lung.
David’s birth was considered a miracle. Anne had to stay in the iron lung throughout her labor, with the machine turned off for a five-minute period so her baby could be delivered.
At 6 pounds, 5 ounces at birth, he became a celebrity. Through a “name the iron lung baby” contest on WCCO radio, he was given the middle name “Haleson,” which means “healthy son.”
Although his mother died from complications of polio and pneumonia in 1951, Wells grew up healthy, spending most of his first five years with grandparents, Bill and Clara Stapleton.
He graduated from River Falls High School in 1967. With a natural ability for sports, he was on the swimming and golf teams. Dave was also one of the best amateur golfers in the area and an accomplished bowler.
These days he can be found managing the River Falls Golf Club.