Tuesday, February 23, 1999

Let's not sell our history to high bidder




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It wasn't bad enough that the dusty little park that bore his name was plowed under as a sacrificial offering to the God of Football. Now, Albert Sabin's name might be removed from the convention center.

        Boy, do we have short memories.

        Have we forgotten the leg braces? The withered arms? The whoosh of the iron lung? The terror of Polio Season? Then came the first Sabin Sunday on April 24, 1960.

        Kids overflowed the offices of their family doctors and waited in line at clinics and schools for the miracle vaccine. Some parents brought spoons with them, holding them out to receive a cherry-flavored syrup spiked with two drops of the vaccine. Some took it on a cube of sugar.

        More than 20,000 children were inoculated that first Sunday. By the time the program ended, more than 180,000 had received the vaccine here. The oral vaccine not only protected the child, but also contributed to what Dr. Sabin called “breaking the chain of transmission.”

        The disease was declared officially vanquished in the Western Hemisphere in 1991.

No patent, no money
        The rout of polio began here in Cincinnati in 1939 when Dr. Sabin came to work as an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati. He developed the live polio vaccine in the late 1950s and tested it in Europe before it was approved for use in the United States.

        He didn't wait to inoculate his own children, who were then 7 and 5. “I couldn't ask parents of other children to take the vaccine if I wouldn't give it to my own children,” he said.

        Dr. Sabin never held a patent on the vaccine he developed. He did not make any money from it.

        Hard to believe, isn't it? A man who wouldn't sell his miracle drug. These days we'll sell our back teeth if somebody wants to buy them. And we're not giving away the names of our buildings, either. Cinergy Field. Firstar Center.

        But there was no Dr. Riverfront or Mr. Crown.

        There was an Albert B. Sabin, who died in 1993. In 1986, when the convention center was dedicated, he said, “For my family and friends who will survive me, it will remind them. I particularly appreciated what was said in the editorial of The Cincinnati Enquirer this morning. It said "from now on, Cincinnati and Sabin will be inseparable' and for me it is a wonderful thought.”

        Well, inseparable until we get a better offer.

New naming rights
        Today, the push will officially begin for an expanded convention center. Officials of the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) will unveil plans at their annual meeting for the project, expected to cost more than $300 million.

        Increasing the countywide hotel tax will be part of the financing package. But the CVB also is exploring the possibility of naming rights. “It is very early in the naming rights process,” said Gayle Harden-Renfro, the bureau's communications director. “There's still a possibility that his name will be part of the center.” A strong possibility?

        “Just say "possibility.'”

        So, maybe it will be the Delta/Sabin Center or the Pringles/Sabin Center. Surely we can do better than this.

        If the only way we can get a new convention center is to sell off the name, then let's put Dr. Sabin's name on something else. Children's Hospital? A school? UC's medical school. Something. Something wonderful. And let's keep it there.

        A whole generation of people — not just Cincinnatians, not just Americans, but people all over the world — are walking around today because of Albert B. Sabin. Alive. Breathing on their own.

        And that is something money can't buy.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio and as a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.