history World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases  

Katherine Ripley
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Before the advancements of modern medicine, death from childhood infections was quite common, and is still common in many developing countries today. This list is full of famous people who survived potentially fatal childhood diseases. After beating the odds when they were young, they went on to change the world.

If these people had not survived their brushes with death, the world might not be the same place it is today. Chew on that while you read their stories.
George Washington is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

Historians think George Washington was plagued by several diseases throughout his life. First, when he was 15, he got diptheria, a common childhood infection which was often fatal. Then, when he was 17, he got malaria, which doesn't often happen in the United States now, but was very common back then. As if that wasn't enough, he got smallpox when he was 19. That experience inspired him to have all the soldiers in the Colonial Army vaccinated for smallpox. 

Washington continued to suffer from other diseases throughout his life, until he finally died from complications from the flu.

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Age: Died at 67 (1732-1799)

Birthplace: Contiguous United States, United States of America, United States, with Territories Westmoreland County, + more

Profession: Surveyor, Politician, Soldier, Military Officer Farmer, + more

Also Ranked

#1 on The Most Important Military Leaders In US History

#7 on The All-Time Greatest People in History

#3 on The Most Enlightened Leaders in World History

#30 on People We Wish Were Still Alive

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Desmond Tutu is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases
Photo: Freebase/GNU Free Documentation License

Desmond Tutu is widely known for his outspoken opposition to apartheid in South Africa. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. When he was 12 years old, he nearly died of tuberculosis. This experience made him want to become a doctor, but his family could not afford medical school tuition. He instead became a priest and deacon, and later a bishop, and used his role in the church to advance the movement for racial equality.

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Age: 85

Birthplace: Klerksdorp, South Africa

Profession: Priest

Credits: Sing Your Song, Our Story Our Voice, In Remembrance of Martin, World Cup Soccer in Africa: Who Really Wins? Fierce Light, + more

Also Ranked

#74 on The Most Enlightened Leaders in World History

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Thomas Edison is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases
Photo: cea +/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

Thomas Edison contracted scarlet fever when he was 14 years old. The infection caused him to go completely deaf in one ear and mostly deaf in the other. Edison claimed he lost his hearing because a train conductor once picked him up by his ears to prevent him from falling off a train, but experts doubt this was actually the cause.

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Age: Died at 84 (1847-1931)

Birthplace: Milan, Ohio, United States of America

Profession: Businessperson, Entrepreneur, Film Producer, Inventor Scientist, + more

Credits: Frankenstein, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Mr. Mike's Mondo Video, Electrocuting an Elephant

Also Ranked

#30 on The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History

#31 on The Greatest Minds of All Time

#25 on The Most Influential People of All Time

#82 on Famous Role Models We'd Like to Meet In Person

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Joseph Stalin is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

Joseph Stalin contracted smallpox when he was seven years old. The disease left him with severe facial scars, and he had as many photos of himself as possible retouched to reduce the appearance of the scarring.

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Age: Died at 75 (1878-1953)

Birthplace: Gori, Georgia

Profession: Politician, Soldier

Credits: World War II in HD Colour, Apocalypse: The Second World War

Also Ranked

#58 on The Most Influential People of All Time

#43 on The Most Important Leaders in World History

#5 on The Most Influential People of the Cold War

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John F. Kennedy is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases
Photo: U.S. Embassy New Delhi/Flickr

When JFK was only two years old, he contracted scarlet fever. He was in the hospital for about a month before he recovered. He also suffered from whooping cough, measles, and chicken pox during his childhood, but none of those infections brought the future president so close to death as scarlet fever did.

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Age: Died at 46 (1917-1963)

Birthplace: Eastern United States, Brookline, New England, Norfolk County United States of America, + more

Profession: Politician, Soldier, Screenwriter, Military Officer Author, + more

Credits: A Profile in Courage, The Sixties, The Age of Kennedy, Part I: The Early Years

Also Ranked

#45 on The Most Enlightened Leaders in World History

#5 on People We Wish Were Still Alive

#12 on The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History

#42 on The Most Influential People of All Time

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

Mozart contracted smallpox when he was 11 years old. This was actually three years after the musical prodigy composed his first symphony, but it's still good that he stuck around to produce so much more impressive work.

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Age: Died at 35 (1756-1791)

Birthplace: Salzburg, Austria

Profession: Pianist, Musician, Composer, Violist Violinist

Credits: The King's Speech, The Shawshank Redemption, Batman Begins, Alien

Also Ranked

#18 on The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

#18 on The All-Time Greatest People in History

#6 on People We Wish Were Still Alive

#8 on The Greatest Minds of All Time

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Helen Keller is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

When Helen Keller was 19 months old, she suffered from an illness which caused her to lose her sight and her hearing. No one can be certain what the illness was, but the most likely suspects are scarlet fever or rubella. She did not learn how to communicate until she was six years old, but once she harnessed the power of communication, she used it to work for the American Foundation For The Blind, protest war, and advocate for workers's rights.

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Age: Died at 88 (1880-1968)

Birthplace: Tuscumbia, Alabama, USA

Profession: Pacifist, Lecturer, Author

Credits: The Miracle Worker, Deliverance, The Unconquered, Adventures from the Book of Virtues

Also Ranked

#22 on The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models

#57 on The Most Powerful Women In The World

#44 on The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History

#98 on Famous Role Models We'd Like to Meet In Person

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George Washington Carver is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list World-Changers Who Survived Childhood Diseases
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

As a child, George Washington Carver had whooping cough, which permanently affected his voice. He went on to become a revolutionary agriculturist and inventor.

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Birthplace: Diamond, Missouri, United States of America

Profession: Chemist, Inventor, Scientist, Botanist

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