What many people call “bad,” 71-year-old Arvid Schwartz of Green Isle, Minnesota, calls “good.”
In 1952 at age 12 and while growing up on the family farm, “one day I was riding my bicycle and walking and the next morning I got out of bed and fell flat on my face,” said Schwartz in a telephone interview. “The doctor thought I had the flu. I was in bed for a week and became worse. At some point, it must have dawned on everyone that if you can’t walk and stand, it’s not flu.”
In 1952, he said, everyone dreaded the word “polio,” which was what a doctor diagnosed.
His parents took him to Sister Kenny Institute, world pioneers in physical therapy, where he stayed eight months. Schwartz was permanently paralyzed from the waist down and began using crutches. He said, “Back then, there were no such things as handicapped parking signs or mainstreaming in schools. You were a cripple. (In time) I went to the public school, which had four floors. I had two minutes between classes. There were no elevators. I had to figure out how to get from the bottom to the top floor in two minutes.”
In many ways, he said, polio has been a blessing. Unable to work the family farm due to polio, he took college accounting classes and after graduation in 1960 began working at a small healthcare company called Group Health Plan, where he would work 25 years. In 1986, he retired at age 46 as the chief financial officer for what had become a nearly $1 billion corporation. Today, that once “little” company is $4 billion Minnesota-based HealthPartners.
He left because he wanted more out of life. Married and with grown children, he became active in real estate development, farming, and philanthropy. Today, and still using crutches, in part, he is chairman of the Lutheran Home Association, treasurer of a TV outreach called “Time of Grace,” and active with Jesus Cares Ministries, an organization that helps people with developmental and other disabilities.
He said, “God sends things into our lives, some of which we often don’t know why. That was my experience with polio. Over the years, I’m beginning to see what having polio has meant to my life. God got my attention (through it) and from that so much good has happened.”