From being a polio victim to dedicating his whole life to the cause of eradicating the crippling disease from India and organizing several initiatives for it, Ramesh Ferris has indeed come a long way.
Ferris, who had contracted the disease while he was just a six-month-old baby, says he looks forward to the day when the country will be declared free of polio.
"It will be one of the greatest feats in the world history," says Ferris who was born in Coimbatore to a poor family and handed over to an orphanage when he turned one and a half years old.
Ramesh's journey was never easy from the time he was afflicted with the ailment which was supposed to leave his legs paralyzed for whole life.
"My birth mother tried her best to take care of me for a year but she soon realised she didn't have the means to raise him and turned him over to the orphanage," said the 34-year-old who was here recently.
The Canadian-founded orphanage was nothing less than a boon for Ferris as within a year, he was adopted by a family based in Yukon, Canada.
"Soon after my adoption, I could get access to corrective surgery and intensive rehabilitation and it only got better from there," recalls the 34-year-old.
Ferris says he never gave up attempting to sensitise on the issue despite being "mocked and taunted by people around him."
"I never gave up despite being made fun of for being different. I stayed focused," he said.
After his graduation, Ferris returned to India, this time fitted with braces and clutches. "The meeting with my mother was emotional and I was very happy. But what changed my life forever was the moment I saw a polio survivor crawling on the road with the help of tyres. I was shocked and just thought to myself if I hadn't got any treatment, I would have been crawling to survive too," he said.
Determined to dedicate his entire life to the cause of polio eradication Ferris spearheaded the campaign, 'Cycle to Walk Canada' in the year 2008. Focussed on polio eradication, education and rehabilitation wherein Ferris says he hand-cycled 7,140 kms across Canada.
"En-route, I participated in 350 media interviews and made over 200 presentations at schools, churches and various levels of government, he said. This campaign raised thousands of dollars and increased the awareness of polio dramatically.
Ferris then came to India on National Immunization Day and he was extremely happy to see hardworking volunteers and the frontline workers, the leaders coordinating to ensure that millions of Indians receive polio vaccines.
I got a chance to vaccinate the kids. It was really special and meaningful to participate, he said.
Today, he looks satisfied that there has been no new case reported of polio in India from past three years.
It has been a lot of hard work. It has been 2.3 million people, who have worked tirelessly and took over several years as part of NID to ensure that 900 million kids vaccinated against polio in year 2011. It takes a lot of strategic leadership, great co-ordination and dedication and not giving up, Ramesh said while commending the Indian government and health officers for working in collaboration.
He also believes that it is really important for India to remain vigilant since countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria followed India to eradicate polio.
We have reason for celebration but we have more cause to continue the efforts in providing polio vaccines to children. India's success in polio eradication is a blueprint for the nations where the disease is endemic, he said. He has himself started programmes in Pakistan and is hopeful soon the world will be polio free too.
Ferris , who wrote the book titled 'Better Than a Cure: One Man's Journey to Free the World of Polio' says he still has a lot of work left to do.
When I see polio affected people crawling; I feel I can't stop and have to keep working for the cause and contribute in my own way to make the world polio free, he said.