Polio has not stopped West Winch pensioner

Gill Shaw with her Donkeys  (LtoR, Laddie and Girlie ANL-140905-173553001
Gill Shaw with her Donkeys (LtoR, Laddie and Girlie ANL-140905-173553001
Have your say

A pensioner who was left paralysed after contracting polio as a child has refused to let it hold her back and is continuing to care for her donkeys at the age of 78.

Gill Shaw was just 13 when she was struck down with the disease and was forced to spend two years in hospital.

Mrs Shaw, of West Winch, had not felt any symptoms but woke up on the morning of September 11, 1949, unable to stand.

Polio has now been practically wiped out in this country but there was a widespread outbreak during the 1940s and 1950s.

Mrs Shaw did not allow polio to stand in her way, going on to become a secretary and also showing donkeys with her late husband, Ken.

She said: “It is life – you just have to get on with it.

“Being independent is very important to me. I am unhappy if I can’t get out in the afternoon. Hail, rain or shine I have to get out to see my donkeys.

“I still clean them out using long-handled tools my husband made me.”

Mrs Shaw, who thinks she may have caught polio when on holiday in Yorkshire, spent a month in the infectious unit at Norwich hospital before being transferred to an orthopaedic hospital in Newmarket.

Her parents, George and Dorothy Eagling, were only able to visit her at weekends and had to buy a car.

Treatment was very different then and Mrs Shaw was required to spend six months in plaster.

She said: “I was so stiff, it was agony but I just had to get on with it. I was paralysed from the head down but the movement gradually came back.

“I was so pleased when I could hold a book again as I had been lying flat with nothing to do. My left arm was not badly affected so I read horse books which kept me occupied. I loved to read.

“They tried to get me to walk with iron casings on my legs but the muscles were not there.”

When she left hospital for the final time in 1952, there was little help available from the health service or state and her family had to buy a bath chair from an auction.

She spent a year at the former technical college in London Road before being offered a job as a secretary.

Mrs Shaw met her husband Ken through their shared interest in pigeon showing and she has also been a member of the St Raphael Club.

She has shared a picture of the opening of outdoor swimming pool in The Walks, Lynn, during May 1949. She said: “We were very hardy children then. I swam each day with my friends and often had to queue to get in.”

The first season was due to close in October but ended in September after Mrs Shaw and others in the town had contracted polio, due to fears it could be transmitted in the water. However, Mrs Shaw believes she had caught polio in Yorkshire weeks before.