Karen Dale Ream: An Outlier By asia rutledge

Outlier: a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set.

My Grandmother, Karen Dale Ream survived a brutal viral disease and that is the reason I am here today. Looking back at history we hear stories of other young kids who were in the same position. Karen Dale was one of the few thousand kids who survived polio with little or no paralysis. The fight against polio has made my Grandmother the person she is today, and outlier. Without the help of doctors, love from family members, and advancements in science, I wouldn’t be here today.

Karen Dale’s Story Part 1: Early Years

Karen Dale Ream at the age of four.

Karen Dale Ream, my Grandmother, was born on February 14th 1940. In a small town in Oklahoma. Perry is like every small town in America, every street and block is built around the square, one little grocery, one restaurant, and a few little shops here and there. My Great-Grandfather was far from a wealthy man, he owned little business here and there, and putting both of his daughters through school and college was an extremely difficult task. And so from a young age my Grandmother was taught to work hard for things you want and deserve. Even before she entered school she was putting money in a bank account, every paycheck from a job, every cent from babysitting was put to further her education. At the age of nine her whole world changed, she was struck with polio. Due to the lack of medical support in her town, her parents took her to a hospital nearly 100 miles away from everything she knew, without friends , family, and her dog she spent over a year in an iron lung, with only Sundays and Wednesdays to look forward to where her parents could only see her from a window outside.

Karen was stripped of all my clothes and belongs and pushed into a wheelchair. Everything was happening was quickly only a few hours earlier they were at the doctors and heard the dreaded words “Yes, You have Polio”. Karen was pushed into a wheelchair and taken away from her family, she couldn’t stop crying. As she was being pushed down the hall she turned back to look at her mother. She was standing in the corner holding her clothes, with not a single tear on her face. That sight, her mother not crying, stayed with her for years to come.

Image of an iron long where polio victims rested. Karen spent a year and a half in an iron lung.

About Polio:

Poliomyelitis or Polio is an infectious viral disease that affects the central nervous system and can cause temporary or permanent paralysis, though it only affected the young. It spreads through direct contact with patients who have the infection. Polio struck in the warm months of summer, it swept through towns in epidemics all throughout America. The first major polio outbreak occurred in 1916 but reached its peak in 1952. Nearly 58,000 cases were reported that year, 3,145 died and another 21,269 were left with mild or disabling paralysis. Three years after this epidemic, Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine. The average number of cases dropped to 910 cases, by 1962. The Center for Disease reports that the United States has been polio-free since 1979.

What Is an Iron Lung?

No device is more associated with polio than the tank respirator, also known as the iron lung. Many people with acute, early stages of polio were unable to breathe when the virus paralyzed muscle groups in the chest. Many died at this stage, although those who survived recovered much or almost of their former strength.Nothing worked well in keeping people breathing until 1927, when Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz shaw created a tank respirator that could artificially help people breathe until they could do so independently. This machine was powered by an electric motor and two vacuum cleaners. The pump helped change the pressure inside the airtight metal box, pulling air in and out of the lungs. Inventor John Emerson refined the device cutting the cost nearly in half. Patients would lay on the bed inside the tank respirator. Portal windows were added so that attendants could adjust limbs, hot packs, and sheets.

Karen Dale’s Story Part 2: Going to College

Karen top right cheerleading photo in 1957.

College was a big thing for my Grandmother, but getting there wouldn’t be easy. She worked very hard to get there, and saved every coin she got, although that wasn’t enough. Therefore, she applied for many scholarships to get her through school, five of which she got. She worked very hard in school and got good grades.

On the day of Karen's Graduation, she was as excited as ever. She was one of the few women to finish her college degree, with a young child and a husband. She never gave up because she knew without this college degree Karen would not be able to succeed the way she wanted to succeed.

Karen sat in her chair as all the speeches proceed. They called every student with a child to stand up, and I did. They next called up every student who is married to stand up, and I did. The crowd went wild, tears came to my eyes. I finally made it.

Oklahoma University campus where Karen attend from 1958-1961.

Karen Dale’s Story Part 3: Getting A Job in Singapore

Karen Dale Ream with her children Steven Studebaker and Susan Studebaker in 1977.

Karen was looking for a new and exciting career. She had the taste of living overseas when her ex-husband was assigned a posting in Germany 10 years before, she fell in love with the thought of travel in foreign countries. It was a chance for a fresh and brand new start. Karen applied for a counseling job overseas and was hired to be the learning disabilities specialist at the Singapore American School. This was the opportunity she was looking for, it was a scary move, she was a single mother of two children moving to the “Far East”, away from everything she knew. She sold almost all of her belongings and set out for the new chapter in her life on the other side of the world.

June the 5th 1975, Karen looked out the window as the plane went rushing down the runway, as it slowly started to snow outside. She held on to her two young kids Susan and Steven. Little did she know this was the best decision she made for herself and for her family.

“I am so glad you are doing this, I always wish I had done something like this. I just didn’t have the courage to do it. You go and you go have fun.”

Karens Grandmother Momma D was one of the few people who believed in Karen, and believed what she was doing was right. Without her she wouldn’t have had the courage to pack up and move her whole family.

Karen’s heart leaped as the airplane hit the ground. With long flights to both Europe and Bangkok she could barely keep her eyes open. The stairs were pulled up to the plane opened the door and the wave of humidity instantly hit. They had finally landed in Singapore at the Paya Lebar airport.

Image of the Singapore River in 1975, where Karen lived till 1986.


Today, My Grandmother is happily married and living in Hawaii. She has two kids, Susan Studebaker-Rutledge and Steven Studebaker and two grandchildren Asia Rutledge and Bao Michael Studebaker.

An outlier is not just a person who is given these special opportunities. An outlier is someone who is given these opportunities and makes good of them and lives with these opportunities to the their fullest potential. My Grandmother was given these special opportunities by doctors, family, school, and jobs. For all these reasons above, I believe that my Grandmother is an outlier.

Karen Dale Ream with her husband John Andrews and Granddaughter Asia Rutledge in 2012.


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Andrews, Karen. Personal Interview. 3 Nov. 2016.

Andrews, Karen. Personal Interview. 8 Nov. 2016.


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"Singapore 1975, USS Midway Port Visit, Singapore Harbor 064b Pan." Flickr. Yahoo!, n.d. Web. https://www.flickr.com/photos/snapsg/galleries/72157626221793208/

@OU_CLS. "What Is It That Makes the OU Campus so Beautiful?" CLS Insight. N.p., 27 July 2016. Web.


“Grandmother as a child”, Oklahoma Personal photograph. 1994.

“Singapore family photo”, Singapore. Personal photograph. 1977.

“Asia and Grandparents”, Hawaii. Personal photograph. 14 June 2012.

“Grandmother Headshot”, Hawaii. Personal photograph. 1990.

"Grandmother Cheerleading", Oklahoma. Personal photograph. 1957.

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