One in a million

A portrait of CEO, Jeff MenaryIn September of 2017 I was bitten by a mosquito. This is a common occurrence and shouldn’t cause any concerns. I was aware that mosquitoes can carry the West Nile virus, but some researchers estimate that only about 2 percent of mosquitoes are carriers.

Fortunately for most individuals, being bitten by a mosquito carrying this virus is still of little consequence. Only 5 percent of those bitten develop the West Nile virus. Even then the odds are in your favor. Approximately 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus do not become ill and most of the remaining 20 percent of infected people may experience a mild illness creating flu-like symptoms. Fewer than 1 percent of people infected with West Nile will become critically ill. Unfortunately, I fell into this category.

On Wednesday Sept. 13, 2017, during my regular morning exercises, my legs started convulsing. By Saturday, Sept. 16, I had a severe headache, body aches, and had lost the ability to walk.

After six days at the University of Iowa Hospitals, I was diagnosed with the West Nile virus. My symptoms, textbook for the severe version of the illness, included inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), extreme muscle weakness, extremely high and low blood pressure readings, thyroid issues, and ultimately total paralysis.

I was put on a ventilator and feeding tube and remained at the University of Iowa Hospital for seven weeks, three of those in intensive care. On Nov. 1, I moved to the world-renowned Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. for rehab, where I stayed for over three months. On Feb. 2, I began outpatient rehab. I have some movement in my legs but I cannot stand or walk yet. I have become proficient with a wheelchair, have learned to swim with limited leg movement, and have passed drivers training which allows me to operate a modified vehicle.

While my absence was unexpected, I never doubted that the leaders at Grinnell Mutual would keep moving the company forward, which they did seamlessly. I am so grateful to have such a fantastic leadership team and dedicated group of employees who were able to keep the company on track on the roadmap we’ve laid out.

I was able to start back to work in March and I couldn’t be happier about that. Our work at Grinnell Mutual — providing the products and services that our member mutuals, agents, and policyholders demand and deserve — is never done and I’m excited to be back in the thick of it.