Portrait of Courage

I want to tell you about a young woman for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration. This person was born with a very serious birth defect. I don't know if you are familiar with spina-bifida but it is an opening in the back where the spine does not grow together properly. I don't know if you are familiar with hydrocephalus but this is when there is an overabundance of spinal fluid and the fluid goes to the brain, causing the head to grow. Sometimes a baby will have spina-bifida, sometimes they will have hydrocephalus and on occasion a baby will have both. This baby had both.

The doctors did not give much hope that this baby would live and the parents took her home to care for her when she was 10 days old, not knowing what to expect. It was a scary situation but they did better than they expected. She needed special care but she was a good baby which was a big help. At the age of five weeks her back began to seep spinal fluid and they were told to take her to the UVA Hospital in Charlottesville, VA.

After a week the draining stopped and she was sent home. At the age of three months the draining began again and she was taken back to the hospital. This time the doctors could not stop the draining and surgery had to be done to close the opening in the back. Otherwise there was a risk the baby would get spinal meningitis.

The child spent 4 weeks in the hospital after surgery and when she was released from the hospital her head had grown at the rate of 1/2 inch a week. The parents were told that her head would continue to grow and she only had three to six months to live. So with this hanging over their heads the parents took her home, supposedly to watch her die, but full of faith that she could make it and live. They put this child in the hands of the Lord and did all they knew to do to help her grow. Each time the local doctor measured her head he would find that it had not grown.

She began to eat, not only taking her bottle but eating solid food, and she began to thrive. And thus began the fight that this spunky little girl would wage over the years. At one year of age she was taken to a surgeon in hopes of getting her on her feet, but he said she probably wouldn't live to be two years old and if she did she would never be 'right'. S

he had a homemade walker in which she got around and was able to be a little bit independent. She was talking very well before she was two, learning her ABC's and spelling her name. When she was two years old a doctor was found who would try to help her get on her feet. She had surgery done on her hip, something called closed reduction, where no incision is made but the hip is maneuvered into place.

She was put into a cast from her waist down both legs. She wore the cast for three months after which a metal brace was put on her shoes to hold her feet apart. Her parents took her everywhere with them. When she was three years old she received her first leg brace. After a while it was determined she would need a brace on both legs and she was fitted with another leg brace.

Now she could stand for the first time, but of course, she didn't have the balance she needed. She used parallel bars, made especially for her to use in her home, and learned the walking motion. Then she received a pair of crutches and after a lot of falls and a long learning process she was able to walk on her own. When she was six years old she began school. With a wonderful, understanding and patient teacher, problems of her getting about with the other children were worked out and she did fine after that. When she was in high school she worked as a candy striper at the local hospital. Over four years she contributed more than 1200 hours, more than any other candystriper at that time.

A year after she graduated she attended Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, VA, taking a secretarial course. While there she met a young man and they fell in love. She graduated and came back to her home and got a job with the local newspaper. She and her boyfriend kept in touch and visited each other until he finished his course. He went back to his home, took a job with a bank and one day when he called her he proposed to her over the phone. She accepted. In time they were married and she left her home and went to live with him in Virginia Beach, VA, over 200 miles away.

They both worked and became good taxpaying citizens. Without God's help and the fight that she had in her she would probably never have lived. I know this young woman probably better than she knows herself because, you see, I am her mother. And she does have my respect and admiration for all she has been through and how she has handled it. On January 15, 2000, she will be 48 years old and always on her birthday I remember the grim words of many doctors, and I thank God for all the blessings that have come our way.

Jean Fitzgerald jfitzger@neocom.net

Send Jean an email and let her know what you thought about her story!

A little bit about Jean:

My name is Jean Fitzgerald and I was 23 years old when my daughter, Julie, was born. So now you know that I am 71 years old. I also have two other children, a daughter almost four years younger than Julie and a son, who was born 22 months later. I think of myself as a 'Jack of all Trades' and 'Master of Few' (if any), Because of Julie's special needs I was a stay at home mom, dabbling in a few ventures over the years. I am a member of Toastmasters International and have given this story in a speech at some of our meetings. About two years ago Julie had to go to a wheel chair. And one year ago she had to retire from her job as receptionist and telephone operator at a cable company. Just recently I set her up with a computer and got her on line so that now we enjoy keeping in touch through e-mail. Her e-mail address is jlucord@integrityonline18.com . I hope anyone who may read my story can take strength in knowing that God can do anything and we should lean on him.

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