JACKSONVILLE, Fla. / ST. GEORGE'S, GRENADA -- All she asked for was a new mattress. (Hers was a flimsy foam lining.) Shen Gibbs was 12 years old when we met her in Grenada. She was crawling on her hands and knees up and down rough roads, often a quarter mile to school.
Now Shen is 22 years old. People still ask about Shen and so FCN anchor Jeannie Blaylock returned to Grenada to see how Shen is doing now.
Did she ever have hope she could walk before she met folks from Jacksonville?
She was born with arthrogryposis, a muscle contraction problem, according to pediatric orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Eric Loveless, who did her surgery at at Wolfson Children's Hospital.
Her knees were bent into an "L" position and would not flex. Her feet were also bent, in fact, so much she couldn't stand.
Her wrists had turned into large humps, actually calluses, from crawling on her hands turned upside down.
People all over the First Coast were just captivated by Shen's story.
Various groups rallied to raise money for Shen to fly almost 2,000 miles from Grenada to Jacksonville for medical help.
One big fundraiser was at University Christian. Organizers were hoping the outdoor garage sale would raise about $4,000. It raised $16,000.
The volunteer medical group C.H.O.R.E.S was the backbone to Shen's journey. Shen actually lived with her physical therapist, Debbie Sells, who works at Nemours. Pediatrician Dr. Doug Campbell helped spearhead intricate details for Shen.
C.H.O.R.E.S. still checks on Shen twice a year in Grenada. But most of us haven't seen Shen for 10 years.
Shen is now 22 years old. We kept our arrival a surprise, and when she saw us, her face lit up!
Shen lives down a very steep hill, but she can walk up the incline just fine. She uses small crutches -- and always will -- because one of her legs is shorter than the other by about an inch.
Shen's mother has passed away since we last visited Grenada. But Shen's sister lives right down the road and helps her the best she can.
Her sister explained she helped Shen get a special loan to buy a wash machine for her small house. Her home is surrounded by coconuts, bananas, mangoes, and all sorts of tropical fruit, which help supply her meals.
Her big surprise? She is now a mom. Her little boy will be three in September and will begin going to school.
Shen is able to diaper him, cook for him, and turn the pages of a book. She likes to read "Cat in the Hat" to her son, who's name is Shurmell. Shen calls him "Mellie" for short and for some reason her friends call him "Shampoo." It's just a fun nickname Shen can't explain, but she likes it.
Shen says she wanted children but wasn't sure she could become a mom. Doctors did a c-section and everything went just fine.
Shen's hands and feet were so badly bent before, but now she can run her own household.
And there's more. Shen is becoming an independent businesswoman. She's opening a small nail and clothing shop down the street using nail polish donations from University Christian and San Jose Episcopal.
Shen calls her new business, "Shentastic Nails!"
She could use more clothing items and nail polish. If you'd like to donate or just send Shen a card for encouragement, please email Jeannie Blaylock at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shen is so grateful for the help she received in Jacksonville. She says it's wonderful to her that people who didn't even know her reached out to help her. She says it proves people in Jacksonville "have love."
She says she misses Jacksonville. She'd like to return for a visit someday.
Meanwhile, she is helping us all focus on ability rather than disability.
That says a lot, especially since, when Shen was born, a neighbor's advice was to "flush her down the toilet."
First Coast News