You may have heard about the 1.5 million children that die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year, or the 1 in 5 children that still lacks access to vaccines, but sometimes these statistics don’t hit home until you meet someone affected by these diseases – that’s when everything comes into focus.
Last week, I was honored to meet an inspirational man, a true fighter – Dennis Ogbe. Originally from Nigeria, Dennis contracted polio at three years old when he was taken to a clinic to receive treatment for malaria. A nurse broke a needle in his back, and as a result of the medical error, he was in a coma for three days. He pulled through the coma, but with a weakened immune system, he contracted polio while still in the hospital. The debilitating disease left him completely paralyzed from the waist down.
Instead of encouraging his son to use his disability to beg for money, Dennis’ father was adamant about giving him more opportunities. By saving up his money, Dennis’ father made sure Dennis and his eleven other siblings went to school as he fought for a better future for them. Thanks to his father’s hard work, a close supportive friend, Masai Ujiri, and his positive attitude, sheer determination and practice, Dennis was able to regain full mobility in his right leg. He is now able to walk without a wheelchair or crutches.
Today, Dennis is a world-class U.S. Paralympian. Decorated with gold and silver medals, Dennis is an inspiration and a testimony that nothing is impossible. He truly believes that no child should have to overcome disability from polio.
Last Thursday in Los Angeles, CA, at an event with Variety Magazine and the United Nations Foundation, Dennis spoke with leaders in the entertainment industry about how they can use their voice to amplify the voices of children in developing countries affected by terrible, but preventable diseases like polio. He encouraged everyone to come together to eradicate polio. The world is 99 percent polio-free – we are almost there – but we must stay committed to the fight to get to 100 percent. The last 1 percent is going to be the hardest, but polio anywhere is a risk to children everywhere. This is our shot to make sure that every child has a chance to grow up and achieve their dreams just as Dennis has.