Polio, for decades prior to 1950, was a disease that was known for its impact especially in Africa and Latin America. However, in Costa Rica before 1954 there had been only a few cases. In February and March of 1954 the situation drastically changed and produced in the country the largest polio epidemic to shake the world in a ratio of one per thousand. The total afflicted was approximately 50,000 children in a population of less than one million inhabitants, leaving paralyzed 1,000 children and 152 dead over a period of three months.
For the physician-hospital system polio meant a great convulsion in the absence of trained personnel. There were no medical specialists, technicians, physical therapist or equipment to treat victims, as well as no infrastructure to house those afflicted with polio. The plague exposed serious deficiencies that existed in the hospitals in Costa Rica, for the treatment and rehabilitation of neuromusculoskeletal disorders..
Dr. Don Humberto Araya Rojas, addressed the crisis resulting from polio and the serious concerns about the large number of people who were disabled not only due to Polio but for many other reasons, as well and were not offered rehabilitation treatment or any form of medical treatment for their handicaps. The doctor upon becoming aware of the extreme crisis, took immediate action aimed at combating this situation. However, the problems became more and more complex with numerous patients filling the hospital wards and no trained personnel to treat them.
In Mexico, doctors were teaching courses regarding the emergency and long term treatment of polio. Therefore, In August 1954 Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas, traveled to Mexico for such a course, returning in January 1956. After his return, the doctor wanted to implement in Costa Rica, everything learned in the year and a half course he attended at, Children's Hospital in Mexico. However he would face new obstacles; there was a strong fear by his peers regarding the spread of polio, to the extent that the polio patients were installed in the basement of the hospital. Due to this situation, the doctor requested that he be allowed to move the children suffering with polio to an old house adjacent to the hospital. This building known as "La Casa Verde", (the green house), was made of wood and was over 60 years old. It had previously served as the residence's of the Director of the Psychiatric Hospital.
In August 1955 Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas, created the National Rehabilitation Center. The spirit of its creation was due to the need to ensure the rehabilitation of all disabled persons, however, the most pressing cases at that time were Polio victims. His goal was to get a more suitable and safer building in the medium term, but while this was not achievable in the immediate future there was no alternative but to try to improve conditions at the Green House. The risk of fire in this old building was high and added to this dangerous situation was the difficulty of evacuating quickly the children with disabilities. The fire department had informed him that the house, in case of a fire, would reduce to ashes in just five minutes. Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas was distressed to see very ill children placed in an unsuitable house, that provided no rehabilitation equipment or supplies to help boost the spirits of these long term patients. He was also aware that most of these children had been abandoned by their families which only added to their emotional distress.
In 1960 a more modern building, with better security, was built outside the offices of the Board of Social Protection. The new structure consisted of an out-patient department with all its services: waiting rooms, doctors' offices, a therapeutic treatment room, a gym, a hydrotherapy room and a cast room. On the second floor were ten bedrooms with capacity for 70 patients, as well as, a nursing station. When polio was at a more controlled level in Costa Rica and some patients were through the critical period of the disease, a new problem became event. Many children were not being returned to their families. Some were simply abandoned and/or their relatives did not have the economic resources to front a situation of this nature. Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas argued that it was unfair for the children to have to stay in a hospital setting once their treatment warranted otherwise; moreover, it was much more expense to do so. His new struggle was to build a home for convalescent care and rehabilitation.
Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas plan was to purchase land located in an area near San Jose, that had good climatic conditions. Then to build a home on said property for those patients, who could not return to their families for various reasons, but still required long term convalescent care and rehabilitation. Responding to this need in a kindly manner Mr. Aguiluz Marcial, in 1960 donated a farm, in Lindora of Santa Ana, a town west of San Jose, that included three and a half acres of land. The construction of the home was made possible by the contributions of the people of Costa Rica, through: different marathons, the help of the Lions Club, Rotary Club and the Government of Costa Rica. The home was completed in 1961 but, due to lack of hospital equipment was not inaugurated until the following year, on the 9th of September 1962, "A Day of the Child." The home is surrounded by landscaped gardens and Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas dream became a reality. The patients on the second floor of the Green House who had more than five years of internment were moved into a setting where fields, flowers, trees and animals were the norm, as well as, the wonderful fresh air. The days of the, "Rats Hospital," was finally coming to an end.
The home also allows the children of rural areas to stay here while their treatment period lasts. The residence had a capacity to admit 50 children for permanent and/or temporary residency. The house contains: a primary school, a living area, a sewing and craft area, a library, a auditorium and a machine shop. There is a farming agricultural section of land, a basketball court, a football field and a pool.
In 1962 Dr. Humberto Araya Rojas traveled to the United States to advise and observe the latest techniques of physical medicine and rehabilitation services. On his return he set-up, for the first time in Costa Rica, an occupational therapy department and significant progress was made in the manufacture of orthopedic devices. In 1967 he traveled for a period of two months in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela to take courses in rehabilitation training and the administration of such hospitals. The lessons learned during his travels he implemented in the current institute facilities in Costa Rica.