Reflections: The gift of giving back, part 2

George Rowe


… cried out, “Holy Mary, Mother of God!” The umbilical cord was cut and quickly wrapping the baby in prepared linens the midwife retreated to another bedroom mumbling words that sounded hazy and without meaning. I found myself drifting off while losing consciousness of everything and everybody around me.

I was finally awakened at the sound of whisperings, scuffing of feet on the cold canvas floor with my husband standing by my bed and holding my hand. I knew that hours had passed because the kerosene lamps had been extinguished and daylight had arrived. It took me a few minutes to internalize what may have happened during my delivery and with what little strength I could muster I mumbled the words, “My baby! My baby! Where is my baby?” My husband looked so sad and looking toward the open bedroom door he called for the midwife to bring the baby.

Her body language, particularly her facial expressions, was sending a strong message that something was drastically wrong. “You have given birth to a baby boy….nine pounds and three ounces. He….” “I want to see my baby,” I cried. “Please, let me see my son, our son.” My husband squeezed my hand and looking toward the midwife he nodded his head in a “yes” motion. “Your baby is not well,” said the midwife, “and I must warn you that he has some physical defects.” I felt myself fainting when a cold cloth on my forehead brought me back to reality. She continued to talk. “Your baby has a severely deformed face and a large lump on his back right between his shoulder blades. He is not pretty to look at and there is something about his legs that make me think that he will never walk.”

With a sharpness in my voice and with clenched teeth I reached out my arms and said, “I need to hold my son!” Placing him in my arms I slowly removed the blanket and for the first time I was looking into the beautiful eyes of our new son, a brand new addition to a God-blessed family. He couldn’t move his tiny legs, the hump on his back was rather rigid and the open flesh on his upper lip were but minor distractions as I continued to gaze into the most beautiful eyes. I thanked God because mom and son were alive. I kept repeating, “Mommy loves you! Mommy loves you!”

Five weeks passed before the doctor could get to our community. Severe low temperatures and record snowfalls had brought transportation almost to a standstill, even for dog and sled. It was a cold but bright and sunny day when we brought our son to the doctor’s office at the local school. “Mr Pike, Mrs Pike, the news is not good. Your son has a severe cleft lip and palate plus he was born with Spina Bifida….I’m sorry. Right now there is not much we can do until we can arrange for him to see a specialist and that could take months. In the meantime just love you son and do your best to make him comfortable.”

I was dizzy! The medical language used that day had us all but floored. Cleft clip and cleft palate, Spina Bifida. It made no sense. “Will our son ever be normal?” I thought. I fell into my husband’s arms and wept for a very long time. We talked about how we would explain all this medical terminology to our children without isolating our son as a ‘defected’ person. We were amazed with the reaction of our children as they learned to love Luke with an unconditional love. We knew there would be a huge challenge ahead of us as we would learn to deal with our emotions and at the same time make Luke feel loved and appreciated. The entire community embraced our Luke as their own and the amount of support was at times overwhelming.

Following numerous surgeries our son’s facial features began to change for the better. The specialist reassured us that Luke would have a very handsome face that would leave him with just some minor scars. Over a period of time speech therapy would have Luke speaking as any ‘normal’ person of his age.

The Spina Bifida was a larger issue. Luke would never walk and his entire life would be one of mobile restrictions with back and leg braces plus being permanently in a wheelchair. As a mother I cried. I cried a lot. The thing that kept us going as a family was Luke himself. He was not prepared to accept defeat.

With the improvement of his speech he spent hours talking to us about his future and no Spina Bifida was going to prevent him from excelling. He inspired his mom and dad; he inspired his siblings; he inspired the doctors and the neighbours and all visitors who came to see him in the big hospital on the mainland. With the facial surgeries and a number of spinal surgeries, Luke learned to defeat pain and uncomfortableness by always taking the high road. “This will help me accomplish my dream,” he would say through clinched teeth as the pain pulsated through his crippled body. His three older siblings were now in universities and when they faced challenges, difficulties and uncertainties they called Luke or visited with him as often as possible just to hear him talk about dealing with the immediate situations to avoid future tragedies.

Luke spent hours reading books, magazines and articles dealing with his physical imperfections as some called it. He often listened to professional speakers who encouraged him to remain positive and never give up. Lying awake one night and thinking about the gift of life, he cried out, “God, if you are there and if you can hear me I make one request. I want to give back to a community of people who have given me so much. I want to give back to my parents, my siblings, students, medical and government people. I want to take this crippled body of mine and use it to give back to people who never gave up on me. God, please help me.”

The next morning while being assisted to get in his wheelchair Luke looked into the eyes of his therapist and catching her completely off guard said, “I know! I know what I want to do with this broken body! I am going to be a motivational speaker. Yes sir! I’m going to study hard. I’m going to get a degree! I’m going to push myself and one day I will wheel myself on to the stage for a great convocation and I will receive a piece of paper that will say that I am qualified to have my dreams come true.” The therapist could not hold back her tears and reaching down to Luke she placed her arms around his hunched back and placing a soft kiss on his forehead she said, “Luke, you can do it! Luke, you can do it!”

Luke was accepted at a university that specialized in meeting the needs of people like him. The professors did not go easy on Luke. They pushed and encouraged and challenged and forever were casting the vision of an accomplished motivational speaker that would beat all odds and even with his physical restrictions and minor speech impediment, Luke would have his dreams come to fruition. He participated in class debates, spoke with great emotion on topics that were near and dear to his heart. He often spoke words of encouragement to fellow students and on occasion to some of his instructors. He was making great strides and every time he called home there was excitement in his voice and he would say, “Mom I’m going to do it. I will make you proud of me. You and dad loved me unconditionally and I will unconditionally give back to you. Love you mom.”

The call finally came. Luke was twenty-seven years old and when I picked up the receiver he shouted, “Mom! I did it! Mom! I did it! My professor said that I have made the grade and will graduate with a degree in human communications. Mom! I have majored in Human Communication Sciences and for the rest of my life I’m going to travel and give back to people because people never gave up on me. Love you mom! Love you dad.”

The date for the Convocation was announced. We would all be there. Our other six children, all married and with their spouses and our grandchildren. It would be an exciting day.

The auditorium was packed as families and friends gathered to watch their child receive the certificate of their profession. Hundreds of students made their way to the great stage. We looked everywhere for our Luke and then from behind a deep purple curtain he came. He proudly maneuvered his electric wheelchair to the front of the stage and to the shouts of his classmates, instructors and friends he received a standing ovation.

Our family was in for a surprise that almost knocked us off our feet. Coming from behind the deep purple curtain was Mrs. Peacock, now in her eighties, the midwife that had delivered our Luke. She stood by his side while my family quickly applauded and shouted, “Mrs. Peacock! Mrs. Peacock!” His dream had finally come full circle and from that day on our Luke gave back to the community.