When I was 2 months old, my parents started to notice that my skull was growing at an abnormal rate. They took me to the hospital to figure out the issue.
Upon my arrival and after numerous tests were done over the course of a few months, I was diagnosed with congenital hydrocephalus-a condition in which brain fluid doesnt drain on its own, and my parents were told I would most likely never walk or talk.
In 1984, having this condition was a fairly new challenge-not much was known of the disability and only a handful of doctors in Utah at the time were experts in that field. My doctor indicated to my parents that he would need to place a shunt inside of me to reduce the swelling in my brain and help me to function properly. So after much prayer and meditation, my parents agreed to me having the operation. The function of the shunt is a drainage system that moves brain fluid to the abdominal cavity.
The surgery was a success and I know that prayers were answered and miracles were performed in order for me to survive. I grew up living a fairly normal childhood-most children born with hydrocephalus in the 80’s unfortunately did not grow up to live a care-free life. Some had to have multiple shunt revisions because of a malfunction, some had to deal with spina bifida, or paralysis, or brain tumors or hemorrhages, motor function loss.
I was able to do all the things a little boy and teenage boy were able to do-I gained an interest in music and learned how to play the piano, and I loved to sing, play sports, etc. I was a happy individual. At the age of 20, that happiness I took for granted for so long would be tested and tried, and I would come to realize my life would never be the same.
It was mid-March and I was serving an LDS mission in Kentucky. At the time I was living in Lexington with my mission companion, Jess Earl. One morning, I awoke to a massive headache. It came out of the blue, and it was very uncomfortable. I tried to shake it off, crediting it to the stresses of that week-we hadn’t had any success as we were proselyting and at times it was quite frustrating. I figured my body was trying to fight the stress levels and so I concluded it must be a migraine.
The next few days proved to be even more challenging. I noticed my headaches did not subside-to the contrary, they got steadily worse. One night as my companion and I were eating at a restaurant with some members of our faith, my pain tolerance was waning as I couldn’t stand the pressure in my head. I tried to ignore it, and carried on with the evening. When we finished our meals, I quickly stood up and immediately the room starting spinning, with my vison going black. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor of the restaurant with my companion holding me up, trying to revive me. I quickly said that I had just stood up too fast and got lightheaded, but in my mind I knew it was something more.
When Jess and I returned to our apartment, we had our companionship scripture study and he asked me if I felt alright. I said I was fine, which was a lie-my headache was even more painful. So I said a quick prayer and got in bed.
The next morning I had a distinct impression that I should go to the hospital. I told Elder Earl that I thought we should go to the emergency room right away. So we went to the University of Kentucky Emergency room and waited for my treatment.
As my name was called to see a doctor, they proceeded to ask me multiple questions-how long I had experienced the headaches, did I have any nausea or vomiting, was there any family history of head or brain issues. I then told them that I was shunted at 4 months because of hydrocephalus. Their tone and urgency quickly elevated and they took me back to get a CT scan.
The tests were done and they decided to do a “shunt tap” where they took a needle and gently pressed it on my valve to check the CSF pressure. No sooner did they do the tap that copious amounts of fluid started spewing out. This sort of situation was foreign to me. As previously stated, I didn’t experience any surgeries growing up which is very unusual for someone with hydrocephalus. It was then concluded that my shunt I had since birth had ceased to function and I needed to have a shunt revision immediately because my brain was basically flooding and I didn’t have much time to live.
I was shocked and confused all at once. I asked the doctor if I could call my parents and I nervously held the phone in my hand. My father answered, and with disbelief, listened to me as I told him what had transpired that day. He told me he loved me (my mother was at the grocery store when I called) and I handed the phone to the surgeon on call so he could tell my dad what kind of surgery they were going to perform.
The doctor got a concerned look on his face. “We usually have to take out the old shunt to ensure there is no excess fluid building up and that only one channel of flow is happening. From your x rays and MRI it looks like the exterior of your shunt is starting to calcify and harden. If we try to take it out, pieces could break off and damage your organs. There is also the risk of hemorrhage or an aneurysm if we try to remove the old catheter. So we will leave the old one in and place the new shunt on the left side of your body.”
All of this information was given to me in a matter of minutes. I was being wheeled into the operating room as the doctor was talking. He said he couldn’t wait any longer because I only had a short amount of time to live. Before I entered the operating room, I asked Elder Earl if he would give me a priesthood blessing.
In the blessing I was told that the surgeons and nurses would be guided by the spirit to know what to do to save my life and that my time here on earth was not finished. The surgery was a success-I was treated very well and I spent the night at the hospital.
That evening I had a multitude of emotions running through my mind and the most prevalent one was fear. I did not know how this would affect me in the long run, or how I would handle it when I left the hospital. I was in an unknown facility, with little knowledge of shunt malfunctions and I was not able to see my family due to the urgency of the matter.
But the words of my blessing rang loud and clear in my mind- that I would be alright. Amidst my flow of emotions, the words to a familiar hymn started to come- “Abide with me, tis eventide, and lone will be the night, if I cannot commune with Thee, nor find in Thee my light. The darkness of the world I fear, would in my home abide. Oh Savior, stay this night with me, behold ‘tis eventide.” At that moment, I felt the love of my Savior so intensely and I was immediately calm. I knew He was watching over me.
My mission president and his wife visited me while I was recovering-they drove an hour that night to see me and it was very comforting. I was able to go back to my apartment the next day, and the months following proved to be challenging.
I had to learn how to walk again-my headaches were completely gone but my motor skills and functions were on the slow side, due to the immense trauma on my brain. I felt like a child at times because I was not able to stand on my own 2 feet-my legs were weak and unfamiliar to the new sensation of the shunt and CSF flow. I could not walk on my own anymore. My arms felt like dead weights, and I struggled to do the daily tasks that I took for granted my entire life-sitting up in bed, moving my arm to eat food, dressing myself, using the bathroom, among other things.
I started to get very frustrated- I could not proselyte, and I could not be myself-I felt stuck, alone, and afraid. One day I was doing my scripture study and I was reading in 3 Nephi Chapter 17. There were some verses that stuck out to me and affected me greatly. It reads-
“Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy. For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you. And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him. And they did all, both they who had been healed and they who were whole, bow down at his feet, and did worship him; and as many as could come for the multitude did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.”
I had read those verses numerous times in my life but never did it weigh so greatly upon me as it did that day. I wept like a child because I knew that the Savior was aware of me and had already suffered exactly what I was experiencing. I knew that He could give me help and would always be there for me. From then on, my attitude changed and I took a 180 degree turn.
It was at that moment that the power of the Atonement of Christ was manifest so greatly in my life. I knew that He lived anciently and lives today. I knew that the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Christ was true.
To me, it seemed like angels were holding me up as I continued to stumble, because I felt a power stronger than myself keep me upright. I stayed out on my mission and was able to go home when my time came.
The road ahead of me at that point was a difficult one- 15 more shunt revisions over 3 years and numerous tests were done because of complications.
I have looked back on all of those events, and the one that saved my life was when I was at my lowest point after the initial surgery. I miraculously was able to walk again. Something I never thought possible, but because of the grace of Christ, it became a reality. Through my feeble movements and my stumbling (figuratively and literally) I came out on top by reading those few short verses in the Book of Mormon.
It was at my weakest moment that the Savior extended His Hand and saved me.