Itzhak Perlman was afflicted with polio when he was 4. Now, 60 years later he's helping to rid the world of the disease.
The celebrated violinist is performing Wednesday night with the New York Philharmonic in a special concert at Lincoln Center. The sponsor, Rotary International, is in the midst of a campaign to raise $200 million to fight the disease, which can cause paralysis or death.
With the development of vaccines, the number of polio cases has gone from 350,000 in 1988 to about 2,000 as of three years ago, according to World Health Organization figures. Last year, only four countries _ Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan _ had cases of the disease, according to the WHO.
"There's absolutely no excuse for anybody getting polio at this day and age," Perlman said.
As a boy, Perlman recalled hours before the concert, he enjoyed jumping on his bed in his home in Tel Aviv, Israel. Suddenly one day, he said, "I was very weak and I couldn't do it. It was the first indication that something was wrong, that I couldn't really do what I did before."
He doesn't remember much about the treatment, just getting fitted for special shoes and leg braces. However, because he was so young, he was able to adjust to life with paralyzed legs.
"It was just one of those things that that's what I have to do now," he said. "I have to walk with crutches and braces. That's the new me."
Within a year, he started his studies on the violin.
"I wanted to play when I was 3, 3 1/2. Today a lot of people do that but then, it was decided I was a little too young. So I had the polio then and they said, 'So you still want to do it?' The answer is, 'Why not?' Polio didn't affect my hands; it affected my feet. It did not affect the ability to move my arms to play."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Perlman has thrilled millions with his music _ in concert halls, on "Sesame Street" and in movie theaters. He has won four Emmy awards for TV appearances, his recordings have won 15 Grammy awards, and he was the violin soloist on the Oscar-winning movie "Schindler's List."
On the Net:
World Health Organization polio page: http://tinyurl.com/s8s5
Rotary International: http://tinyurl.com/yfgqrfo