30 Years & Counting

30 years

360 months

10,950 days

262,800 hours

15,768,000 minutes

946,080,000 seconds

That’s how long it’s been since I last walked.

“But count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

On January 30, 1992, I walked into the hospital to give birth to my first child. Married only 15 months, 23 years old, and healthy, I had been anticipating this day for months. 

After some crazy mishaps, an epidural, and only 4 ½ hours, I delivered our baby boy, Zachary. Looking into his little face and blue eyes, I knew that my life was about to change forever. But I had no idea of the magnitude of change heading my way.

As the afternoon wore on and evening began to settle in, I needed to use the restroom. After walking into the bathroom, my legs could not hold me up and I collapsed to the floor. Unable to stand up, I laid on the floor until my nurse found me. As she helped me back to bed, she said maybe the epidural hadn’t worn off but assured me I should be fine by morning. 

However, that wasn’t the case as the next day and the following days continued to bring growing weakness and numbness in my legs. Instead of getting better, it kept getting worse. Three days turned into a week which turned into two weeks which turned into a month which then became two months. At this point I could barely walk without falling; I had to use a rented wheelchair; I lost control over other organs like my bladder; and I spent every day lying on my bed or couch with my newborn baby, unable to walk or stand. These were difficult, trying months for both me and my husband, Steve.

I had gone to see different doctors and even had tests but no one could find anything wrong. One doctor went as far as to tell me I had postpartum depression so those long and lonely days had me questioning my mental health as well as my ability to be a mom. I spent my days knowing something serious was happening inside my body, however, not having answers left me anxious and depressed. 

While it took several months for the doctors to find out what had caused my slow but complete paralysis, they finally determined I had two large masses of blood vessels wrapped around my spinal cord (AVM’s). The extra blood flow from the pregnancy caused those masses to have a stroke-like effect on my spinal cord. The blood flow also caused an aneurysm which they think the epidural punctured. Once they found out what was causing the issues, they tried to repair the damage but were unsuccessful. I spent several weeks at Columbia University Hospital in NYC before being transferred for several months of rehab at Hershey Medical Center where I was taught how to function in a wheelchair. Then I was sent home to live in a 3 story, inaccessible row home in Reading and to care full-time for a five month old baby. Talk about life changing… I was scared to come home as I wasn’t sure I could do it. Be a wife, mom, homemaker from a wheelchair… the thought of it overwhelmed me!

But somehow I did do it only with the strength of Christ (a story for another time). It has now been 30 years. I’ve wheeled longer than I’ve walked. It’s become my life. But even after 30 years, paralysis is hard. But I’ve learned that we all have handicaps and hardships in our lives… mine is just visible.

Being paralyzed is more than just sitting in a chair. Some of my wheelchair hardships include:

  • Constant bladder infections & several intensive bladder surgeries
  • Muscle spasms that tighten my legs so much that I’ve broken bones, including an ankle on Christmas Eve
  • Countless stays in the hospital and leaving my precious family for sometimes weeks at a time
  • 23 surgeries
  • Medications that make me lethargic and foggy brained
  • Insurance fights
  • Wounds that have torn my skin which take months and even years to heal
  • Falling out of my wheelchair many times and being stranded on the ground
  • Van and wheelchair breakdowns and costly repairs
  • Ambulance rides, including one ambulance that broke down on the bridge into Manhattan
  • Constant body aches and pains from lifting my body with only my arms
  • The LifeLine Helicopter ride where doctors had 10 minutes to save my life
  • Not being able to go to people’s homes because there are stairs
  • Sitting alone at functions because the wheelchair seating is only for one or sometimes two
  • Waiting for the only handicapped bathroom while an able bodied person is using it and praying you don’t have an accident
  • Realizing you cannot get into your van because someone parked too close to your car to put your ramp down

These are a sampling of trials that have worn me down physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. On the days I am just weary of it all, I reflect on Isaiah 40:31 which says, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Over the years, as I have grown in my faith, my questions were no longer Why God? but rather… What if God called you to paralysis? What if He wants to grow you in ways you can’t imagine? What if He wants you to reach people that you would never reach if you walked? What if He allowed this for His glory? 

This change in thought required total dependence on God while surrendering my control and my belief that I deserved all the answers. Instead I had to learn to trust Him wholeheartedly, believing that He was (and is) working in my life and allowing myself to be vulnerable in my total reliance on Him.

Beginning a gratitude journal, I also began to see my trials as moments to praise Him for His provision, His goodness, His love, and His grace that He bestows on me continuously. My prayers began to shift from “me” focused to “He” focused as I began to thank Him for who He is and what He did on the cross. It began to shift my attitude to not only thanking Him for the good things happening in my life but thanking Him for the hard times. 

I believe that God is still using difficulties to mature me, to teach me, and to make me more like Him. I am not complete yet, not fully mature, not yet like Christ, but I know He is chipping away at my mess to refashion my character to reflect His. He’s teaching me to remain steadfast, unwavering in my faith. As storms come my way and threaten to knock me down, I will remain firm in my belief in the one who controls the storms! 

Besides the maturity that we gain during hard times, I believe that God gives us the opportunity to minister to others. I recently read a quote by Toby Mac that said “Your ministry is often found where you’ve been broken.” We can touch others who are going through similar trials. God has opened doors for me to meet people I never would have met if I was walking. He’s given me a story to share on both a public platform and one-on-one with those I encounter, often providing occasions to share how God has been faithful and present every step of my journey.

Quick synopsis of the rest of my story… After becoming paralyzed from giving birth to our oldest son, my husband and I adopted an energetic 3 year old from Romania, Alex. After a few months with two little boys, I became pregnant. Although abortion was suggested, we could not consider it and I gave birth as a paraplegic to a healthy baby girl, Morgan. Raising three children in a wheelchair, watching them grow into adults, marry their spouses, and begin their own families has been a blessing. I pray as I share the story of our family that it points to God who has written every chapter. 

{One thing I must add whenever I share this story… Although I became paralyzed after Zach’s birth, I never want him to feel as though it was his fault or that I resent any aspect of his birth. I praise God daily for this young man and for the gift of his life.}

So when the Bible says, “count it all joy,” it does not mean that our trials will bring us joy in the form of happiness; but rather we can find joy in what He accomplishes in our lives through the hard times. Being more thankful for who He is; becoming fully dependent on Him; sharing our testimonies for His glory; maturing and transforming to be more like Christ; and standing firm in our beliefs are all reasons to count it all joy when we have trials of many kinds.

But that isn’t the end… we also have the hope of eternity where all our pain, tears, hurt, and sadness will pass and we will be face to face with Jesus Christ, the author of our stories.

Oh I can’t wait for that day. 

I will hear Him say ARISE!

And I will!

A rare photo of me standing with Zach at the hospital.
How I spent my days… on the couch with my dog and baby.
The last photo of me standing and my brother is holding me up by my sweater.
Zach could always be found on my lap!
The day Alex came home from Romania and met his big brother, Zach.
The day Morgan was born! My sweet little family.
My people! I am beyond blessed!

5 thoughts on “30 Years & Counting

  1. oh Debbie!! What a very sweet testimony of God’s faithfulness in your life and your family!! Thank you for sharing from the depths! We appreciate you!

    Like

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