A Mother's Journey with Her Son, Part 3

Read Part 1 of Karen's blog here.

Read Part 2 of Karen's blog here.

After three weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, Josh was ready to be airlifted by private jet to the Shepherd Center. This trip was delayed for several days due to his very low blood pressure. Finally the day came and he was loaded up and ready to go! I left hours before Josh did, in hope arriving before he got there. The timing was perfect. Within 15 minutes of my arrival, he arrived in a local ambulance that met him at the airport.

We were introduced to our nurse and rehab team, met our new roommates and were ready to get started! At this point in Josh's recovery, I was beginning to notice simple little milestones almost on a daily basis: moving a finger, the continued movement of his right foot and leg. But Josh was struggling emotionally and it was becoming harder and harder for him to wrap his head around what had happened and how his life would proceed in his newly paralyzed body. One bright memory we both cherish was the room across the hall from us. Draped in Boston Red Sox memorabilia, we knew we had a friend who loved the Red Sox like we do just across the hall. They proved to be wonderful friends who we still cherish to this day.

Staying Positive

Josh was tested by our rehab team to determine his paralysis level with what's called the Asia Impairment Scale. This was used as a baseline, so that a comparison could be made when he would finally be discharged home. The team tried to trick him multiple times, and Josh and I laughed as they were dumbfounded that he was having sensation in multiple parts of his body. We both proclaimed he would walk again, but the rehab team was rather negative about our enthusiasm and told us that realistically Josh would never walk again.

I will never forget this moment: I calmly asked to speak with the rehab team in the hallway and simply shared my faith and belief that my son would walk again! I asked to have a team with positive, encouraging thoughts. We needed people who would align themselves with the power of prayer, people who saw the glass half-full rather than half-empty. Simply put, I wouldn't put up with negativity and being told "no" and "never" over and over again. I'm certain they were put off by my expectations, but I didn't care. Josh was given an ASIA C rating, with ASIA E being completely normal. I told him, "You just wait, honey, you'll be walking out of this place!"

Josh's rehab got off to a slow start due to his blood pressure issues. He was given a power wheelchair to get back and forth to his PT sessions. However, he could only ride around in the power wheelchair at about a 30° incline. Any higher and Josh's blood pressure would plummet.

Fighting for Independence

After the five-week mark, we celebrated a huge milestone: Josh's bladder and bowel were restored! We were told this was a huge turn of events. We were even more optimistic for his future. Soon I began noticing that his right leg was really starting to move pretty well. But his therapist still recommended a permanent power wheelchair. I flat-out refused, and instead opted for a manual chair where he could get around using his right leg and both arms. I removed the right-side footplate, and while it did take longer for him to get around, he was moving his chair by himself! His therapist was not very happy with me, but it wasn't about her. I was determined to get Josh moving under his own strength and muscles.

Thanksgiving was upon us and I was really struggling emotionally and trying to decide if I should head to my brother's home for the nice meal they had prepared. I decided to go, feeling like I had abandoned Josh. But before I left I had one request for his nurse. Josh had been using a straw device to change the channels on his TV because his hands were not functioning well. I had noticed the dexterity in his right hand was improving, so I asked the nurse to remove the straw and give him the remote control.

I laugh now as I remember his response when I came back from dinner. He was very mad at me. "Why did you have them take my straw away?" he asked, rather upset. I laughed and said, "Because you don't need it! Start using your hands!" Long story short, he did start using his hands and he got to be very good at this simple task we all take for granted. Yet another miracle was witnessed: his hands were starting to move and function a little bit more as each day passed.

These exchanges between my son and I were becoming very common. When he wanted to give up, I wouldn't let him. When I was at the end of my rope, I threatened to leave him there on multiple occasions. I look back on it all now, and as I read my blog posts on Caring Bridge, I can see the fingerprints of God all over this journey in Atlanta and beyond. The Lord firmly had Josh in his hands, healing him millimeter by millimeter, all the while strengthening my resolve that he would walk out of that place! As a competitive athlete all my young life, I never wanted to lose. I now know that God was preparing me then for what I would be experiencing in this journey with my son. "You saw me before I was born, every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed." Psalm 139:16. My faith was carrying me in ways that I didn't think it could. Josh and I worked together. It was very hard at times; the emotional toll was quite daunting for the both of us. But through it all we kept pressing on, toward the goal of walking out of there.

Freedom at Last

Josh walking during physical therapy

Six months later, on an April spring day, Josh walked out of the Shepherd Center with a walker and we returned to Paducah for the surgery Josh needed on his elbow. After his recovery from surgery, we headed to Louisville, Kentucky to begin the last leg of his rehab journey. The Neuro Recovery Network (NRN) was an aggressive treadmill training program sponsored by the Christopher Reeve Foundation at Frazier Rehab. Awaiting us was an angel sent from heaven, Josh's therapist. We laugh now at how Brittany would put him through his paces, never allowing him to make excuses and not accepting anything but his absolute best. We will be forever grateful to her and the entire PT staff that worked with him, caring for him and just loving on us.

Josh walking with Brittany during physical therapy

That first day is etched in both our memories. Josh was told not to enter the gym in a wheelchair anymore. Brittany didn't care how long it took for him to get up to the gym with his walker, but he would walk into the gym, no excuses. This was exactly what he needed, and what I wanted to hear. I'm so thankful for those days of seeing him make such progress, proud of his efforts and never giving up.

In closing, these three blogs don't even come close to getting below the surface of our adventure in the world of spinal cord injury. It is my hope and prayer, that if God would allow, Josh and I could mentor and encourage those who are newly injured and need hope. I realize that my son's recovery can't be someone else's. I can't explain why my child recovered the way he did, but I know I will always give the honor and glory to God for saving my son and allowing him to live a happy, whole life.

About the author

Karen Wenning

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Karen Wenning was an X-ray tech for 18 years before going back to school to become an ER Nurse at age 49.

Mother of three beautiful children: Chris, 30; Josh, 27; Jessica, 25. Grandmother of four grandboys with another grandboy on the way.

Josh's ride is a Quickie 7R.

Most of the stories here on LiveQuickie.com were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.

Date: 12/21/2016 12:00:00 AM

Leigh Ann Goshinsky
Karen I remember having Josh in daycare at western baptist. Your story was very heart felt. So sorry for what y'all have been through but your faith and love for your son is so inspiring. A moms love is never ending. Thanks for sharing your story.
6/16/2017 1:56:12 PM
Renee Meeks
WOW!! What a truly amazing journey you all have been through. I have always said when you think your st your lowest someone else is always lower. I had the honor of working with Karen and I had no idea this was her son until recently. I am truly amazed at what Josh has accomplished and continues to accomplish. What a story. What a life journey. I pray you continue to heal. God bless you both.
6/16/2017 8:58:34 AM
Staci Bachuss
You're a strong, beautiful woman, Karen. You're unending faith is a wonderful testimony to God's great works! Thank you for sharing your story with the world! "Only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trial into a triumph, and a victim into a victory."
6/15/2017 1:00:08 PM
Karen Mathurin
Josh and I have a lot in common. As a C6-7 quad with beyond para capabilities, I know a lot of what Josh went through. I started out moving nothing below my neck, to being able to move most of everything, to some extent. Not so much now, as in the past. I was told I'd never walk again too, I ended up walking very well with braces and a walker. I can't do it today, due to a hospital stay, that put me back a lot, now I can't even stand. I'm determined to get it back, though it going to take a lot of work. The point is, don't believe everything the doctors tell you. Due to divine intervention and a lot of hard work, you can accomplish your goals.
12/27/2016 9:00:16 PM

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