When I returned from Haiti, I learned I had an opportunity to apply for a doctorate scholarship at Harvard University. I already had a degree in computer network systems and engineering and was recruited by IBM out of college. I was a worldwide program delivery manager for Canada and Asia and a Microsoft certified engineer. I loved breaking things and then putting them back together and enjoyed science, technology, math and engineering.
When my first child, Isaiah, was born, IBM allowed me to work from home. I didn’t feel I had the skills to be the kind of mom I wanted to be and didn’t want to duplicate my childhood with my children. I decided the best way to learn to be a great mom was to get a degree in early childhood education, which I did while working from home. Then my husband, Tharrow, who was a network administrator for IBM, and I had a second child, Elijah. Since I was required to have 1,000 hours in training to get my degree, I had worked at my son’s school part time, while going to class and working fulltime as an engineer for IBM. I got my Montessori certification and received various honors.
I Was on the Fast Track When I Hit Bottom
Once I received my Harvard scholarship, we made plans to sell our home. But 6 weeks prior to our moving, the right side of my body went completely numb, I felt as though fire was rushing through my veins, and I experienced excruciating pain.
The emergency room neurologist ordered a brain scan. He came to me and said, “Don’t freak out.”
Then, he told me that I had a condition called Chiari that is sometimes an inherited disease. My brain had fallen into my spinal column, herniating it and causing trauma in my head. The pressure I was feeling in my head was the fluid from my brain trying to break through my skull. I needed decompression surgery to take the pressure off my brain.
I realized this problem was probably what my mother had died of 2 years earlier, because 90 percent of the time this condition is passed on from a mother to her daughters. I took comfort in the fact that I had two boys.
Since the doctors told me this was a deteriorating condition, I elected to have brain surgery – a craniotomy to cut a hole in my skull’s backside, insert a bovine patch and remove pieces of my spine to make room to let the fluid pass through from my brain to my spine. I had walked into the hospital but not out later due to this condition that left me with a permanent brain and spinal cord injury
I’m considered a spastic paraplegic. Since my spasms were very violent, I was admitted to the Shepherd Center (www.shepherd.org). My legs would jump and kick involuntary, and I couldn’t walk, push up or stand up, due to a lack of strength in my core. I also had vocal problems, making speech difficult. But, because of my faith, I knew I wasn’t totally helpless. When I learned that Isaiah, who was 5, had asked his teacher, “Is my mommy going to die?” I decided I would only take my medication when my children were at school to keep them from worrying. When they were at home, if I had to, I decided I’d tie myself in a wheelchair to be present with them. I worked harder to sit up longer and to move around in my wheelchair.
I had learned from my education courses though that I could help my children adapt to my “new normal.”
I allowed them to go to my doctor’s appointments, touch my stitches, get in my wheelchair and experience as much of my injury as they felt comfortable doing. My younger son Elijah was interested in everything about my injury. My boys wrote and published a book titled, “My Mommy Had Brain Surgery and I’m Okay.” The Shepherd Center helped to promote the book. We heard from other people about how this book helped their children prepare for living with a parent with a disability.
Proceeds from the book are being put into a college fund for my two sons, who have been asked to do speaking engagements. Writing the book has made them better speakers and readers and helped them gain self-confidence. When I went to their athletic events in a wheelchair, other students picked on my sons and bullied them. But now, my boys tell their friends to buy their book.
My Book “The Art of Adaptability”
IBM put me on short term disability while I was recovering from all my surgeries, hoping I’d eventually be able to return to work. However, 9 months after my injury, I had a neurological evaluation that revealed I no longer had executive function. This term meant the left side of my brain – the logical side – was wiped out. This side of my brain was what I used as an engineer.
The doctors asked themselves two questions, “Do we help her think?” or “Do we help her walk?”
I was so spastic I couldn’t even use a wheelchair. I spent my time at the Shepherd Center becoming more mobile. I couldn’t return to my job at IBM, but my faith and my husband, who was and still is my knight in shining armor, helped me get through all these disasters and setbacks.
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