Oct. 23—ANDERSON — For four decades, Teddi Mangas-Coon struggled in silence with myasthenia gravis, keeping her secret from her coworkers at the Cincinnati Reds organization and stopping every weekend for treatment at Community Hospital North in Indianapolis on her way home to Anderson.
Though her autoimmune neuromuscular disease alone wasn't able to keep the retired human resources director from making the most of her life, COVID-19 did, sending the snowbird into isolation as soon as she and her husband returned from Florida on March 16, 2020. Her doctor told her being on the same drugs given to cancer patients, she had no immune system and could not risk exposure to the coronavirus.
"I am very goal-oriented, and I have to have a project. I have to have a goal," the Elwood native said. "I may not have done this had I not been isolated for so long."
Mangas-Coon, 67, dusted off an idea she had toyed with starting in 2019 for a children's book that paired animals and alliteration. She will introduce readers to the zeal of zebras, a caravan of camels and a pandemonium of parrots when "You Are Invited to a Garden Party" is released Nov. 1.
"I loved these words and the visual impact they gave me," she said.
She is one of many Madison County residents who have been able to unleash their creativity during the pandemic.
Though Mangas-Coon had written a small book of history and policies for the Town of Edgewood and put her creativity to painting, the grandmother and great-grandmother had yet to embark on a project of this type.
"I had a lot of 'now what?' moments because I'd never done this before."
Coming from a family populated with teachers, guidance counselors and therapists, Mangas-Coon wanted to be sure the children's picture book was educational and especially useful to parents trying to navigate teaching their children at home during the pandemic. To that end, "You Are Invited to a Garden Party" contains a glossary and companion guide to learning at the back of the book.
Among her many collaborators on the project are her sister, Anne Mangas Smith, a science coordinator with the Clear Creek Independent School District in Texas, where the children of many NASA employees are educated; Laura Groover, an instructor in visual and graphic communications at Hinds Career Center in Elwood; and Cheryl Gray, a Santa Rosa Beach, Florida-based watercolor artist.
Groover, who had not met Mangas-Coon in person until Friday, was introduced to her through her sister, Jackie Mangas.
"She said, 'We need somebody to put it into book form,'" said Groover, whose role was to lay out the paintings and the text. "For me, it's fun to take on projects, especially ones I have not done before."
Gray was approached by Mangas-Coon after she found her through a Facebook artists' group to which they both belong.
Though the watercolorist's subjects typically are botanicals and birds, Gray said she always had thought about illustrating a children's book but wasn't sure how to go about doing it. So being invited to participate in Mangas-Coon's project was a dream come true.
"I've always loved working with kids, and I always read to my kids when they were little."
Gray said she was surprised a stranger would trust her with a book, but Mangas-Coon made the process easy and fun.
"Most of the time, we had the exact same idea in our head," she said.
Now that this project is complete. Mangas-Coon is looking for a new project. That, she said, likely will be a memoir in which she will chronicle how she was able to keep her chronic illness a secret for so long from her coworkers and supervisors.
"I would like to inspire people," she said. "I've had this disease my whole life, and I've triumphed."
Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.