Wednesday, November 13, 2013

For the Love of a Son: A Miracle

Yesterday, November 12, when I began this post, was Joan's son Gary's birthday. Not long ago, Joan recounted the story of how close she came to losing him—and the miracle that he is still with us today.

Because of his birthday and because I found these pictures of him and his sister, taken when he was a baby I remembered this story and decided to share it.
Debbie holding her baby brother, Gary Zimmerman with their Grandma Muirhead close by

Debbie, making sure her baby brother is safe.

Now, I'll tell you, to the best of my ability to remember all that Joan told, me with the help of Gary's and Debbie's memories, the events that occurred approximately a year and a half to two years after that picture was taken.

Being a young mother has it's anxious time, but none so great as when a child develops life-threatening symptoms that stump the doctors. When Gary was two years old, his legs began giving out, losing strength and coordination. He was quickly losing the ability to walk, and he was in pain. Debbie remembers her parents wrapping his legs in hot towels to afford him some relief.

He'd been a healthy baby until that time successfully reaching all the usual milestones of babyhood accomplishment: rolling, crawling, walking, and talking. So the sudden weakness and uncontrollable muscle movements were alarming. Joan was terrified.

Gary became a case of great interest at Children's Hospital in Denver. Joan told me about a hoard of doctors convening in a room to observe Gary, making him walk as best he could over and over again, as they tried to diagnose him. (Gary's earliest memories are of his stay at Children's. He remembers getting his finger poked every morning, a rocking horse.) After a lot of time and consultation, they finally decided Gary had dystonia: "a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause slow repetitive movements or abnormal postures. The movements may be painful, and some individuals with dystonia may have a tremor or other neurological features.… The cause for the majority of cases is not known."

That was probably the hardest part for Gary's parents and loved ones—the unknown. Not knowing what was wrong, not knowing why, not knowing what could be done, not knowing if he would survive.

The doctors finally recommended a very risky brain surgery that could be performed by a neurology specialist in New York City. What an agonizing decision Joan and John had  to make. They wondered if it was the right thing to do even as they tried to find the financial means to do it. It seemed the only hope for curing him, but there were no guarantees that it would work. I know there were a lot of prayers on his behalf.

Sometime after they brought him home from Children's Hospital, Gary began getting well. In fact, as I understand it, his recovery was almost immediate. The doctors had no explanation for this turn of events, but there was great rejoicing by all who knew and loved this precious child and his family. There was never any recurrence of symptoms. 

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