Jonas Salk changed history. He saved millions of lives by creating the first vaccine to eliminate polio, bringing an end to the epidemic that had killed and paralyzed thousands.
Jonas Salk was born in 1914 in New York City to Russian immigrants. He was so intelligent that he skipped a number of grades and amazingly, he was in high school at the age of 12! He never got into fights and as a young adult lived by the saying, “There’s more to life than money.” He always kept his cool and had an open mind, skills which helped him a lot throughout his career.
Even during his medical residency, Salk could diagnose anything and was considered a legend at Mount Sinai Hospital. His first vocation was in a lab working for other scientists but he soon wanted more freedom and got his own lab in Pittsburgh’s Municipal Hospital. Later, he became part of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. From there, he created the first effective vaccine for polio.
Jonas Salk worked extremely hard to create a vaccine that would work. He tested one version on soldiers on a base in Europe and when that didn’t work, he had to start over. The whole process took great patience.
Eventually, he perfected the vaccine and became known as a hero across the world. Through his research, Salk set an example for us all. For instance, when he found that the staff auditorium where gatherings were held was going to be taken away, Salk soothingly discussed the significance of his lab and instead of arousing an argument, he used persuasion to solve the problem.
My definition of a hero is someone who puts others before him/herself and Jonas Salk fits this ideal; he was an inspiration to all. He valued education and never left a question unanswered. One of his friends remarked, “Perhaps that’s because Jonas Salk himself rarely took anything for granted. He asked hard questions, stubbornly pursued answers, and did things in his own way - just as he had always planned.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.