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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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Polio survivor recalls isolation amid current stay-at-home order

Jenny Wood Shangraw, 71, spent about 2 months in Mary Free Bed as a young girl
Posted at 11:29 AM, Jun 05, 2020

A West Michigan woman who survived polio as a child spoke to FOX 17 Friday about the parallels she sees between then and now.

Jenny Wood Shangraw, now 71, grew up in a world not concerned with COVID-19 but polio.

“Every generation has its challenges. And we as humans need to understand these challenges help us become stronger," Shangraw said Friday.

As a baby she contracted the virus, having to have several surgeries on her legs. Eventually it started to stunt the growth of her left leg.

“They put staples in my left leg to stunt the growth. So... my bad leg with polio could catch up and it was a miracle that they figured this out," she said.

But around age 7 doctors found water on one of her knees. She was then admitted to Mary Free Bed to recover. Shangraw spent about 2 months there, much of her time in near isolation.

“The girls who were in one ward with about 11 to 12 girls in one room, and about 11 to 12 boys on the other end," Shangraw said. “Were we alone? No. Did we spend a lot of time talking to each other? Not really, because they all had a different disease.”

It was the height of the polio epidemic and Shangraw was learning how to be alone with her thoughts in the girl's ward.

“So was it very lonely? Oh yes, very, very lonely."

She says she was quick to pick up some effective coping skills though.

“You have to have a hobby... and you have to not look inward, but look outward... as much as you can," Shangraw said.

“I would count the holes in the ceiling tiles when I was a kid. There was always something going on. That would entertain me. I had my first kiss at Mary free bed."

Shangraw says these are skills that people could benefit from now if they are struggling with being alone.

“I learned to be creative when I was bored and those are the takeaways. We will survive this. We are getting coping mechanisms. You can be alone and find new outlets for yourself."