One Step at a Time

One Step at a Time

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

One Step at a Time

Running has always been a great love of mine. For fifteen years I ran five miles a day, four days a week. I had developed a very successful business as a sales representative, and my work required a great deal of travel. Living near Lake Ontario, I covered New York, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. I drove an average of 35,000 miles a year to meet with customers. I was always active, always on the go.

A few years ago, I began to feel a minor irritation in my left eye. Finally, after many months, I decided to see a doctor. X rays revealed a small growth behind my eye. It didn’t appear cancerous, but the surgeons recommended having it removed as soon as possible.

Because my travel was usually very light around Christmas, I scheduled surgery for December 19th. I was not looking forward to the surgery, but at least while recuperating I could stay home and enjoy the company of my wife, Barbara, and our three children: Denise, then nineteen; Jerry, seventeen; and Chuck, twelve.

When I awoke after the operation, nothing seemed clear. Conversations made no sense. I remember experiencing everything as a series of short, dream-like situations. I felt as though I were lost in the hospital and nobody could help me. Wake up, Jerry, I told myself. This dream is scary! Actually, I hadn’t been dreaming at all.

During the surgery, a blood vessel that removes blood from the brain had been severed. Although this was a routine procedure, it had devastating effects. My brain tissue began to swell. The next day, I suffered a stroke to the left-front temporal lobe, affecting my speech. I could no longer communicate and the look of terror on my face alerted my daughter to my fears.

My brain continued to swell, and that evening I suffered another stroke, affecting vision. I had lost the right-peripheral vision in both eyes. I was rushed into emergency surgery. The only option left to the doctors was to remove a small portion of my brain which was already damaged by the stroke, in order to make room for any additional swelling. When the doctors finished surgery, they told my wife, “We’ve done all we can, the rest is in God’s hands.” They explained to Barbara that I could be paralyzed, blind and unable to speak.

I was hospitalized for three months at St. Mary’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit in Rochester, New York. During that time, I was reintroduced to my wife and children, but had no idea who they were. When I returned home for a visit, I stood there shaking, asking my wife, where we were. I recognized nothing. Literally, everything had to be reintroduced to me.

After leaving St. Mary’s, I attended their outpatient rehabilitation program for another year. With the wonderful support of the therapists, doctors, family and friends, I began to relearn all the basic tasks of everyday life. During this period, I often used to see a man with long hair and a beard and wearing red-and-white clothing. His arms were outstretched, and there was a glowing heart in the middle of his chest. I loved staring at this wonderful sight. At the time, I didn’t know that this man was appearing in the part of my field of vision that was supposed to be blind.

At the school, I would always use the walking machine at break time. My body slowly started to feel the urge to run again. But because of my near blindness, I was discouraged from running. One day during my prayers, I broke into tears at the thought of never being able to run again. All of a sudden I felt a warm hand touch my leg, and I heard the words, “You can run again.”

Sustained only by an unyielding faith in those words, I gradually retrained myself to run indoors on the walking machine. That was in February 1996. Little by little I did more and more until, in March, I started running outdoors. My family watched me so I wouldn’t get hurt or lost. It was over a year since I had run outside, but my body was adjusting nicely. When I made it down to the lake, I yelled, “Hi, Lake Ontario! It’s me, Jerry Sullivan!”

I worked my way back up to twenty miles a week. My friends took me to the St. Patrick’s Day Five-Mile Run. What a thrill that was! I could run again, and it seemed life was coming back to me.

Driving was next in line. Although 50 percent blind, I learned to drive again. When I passed my driving test, my mother-in-law gave me a gift—a small religious sticker to place in my car. On the sticker was a picture of a man with long hair and a beard, dressed in red and white. There on his chest was a glowing heart. It was the same man I had seen so often during my recovery.

I don’t know what to make of this coincidence. But I do know the extraordinary power of faith. If it can make a blind man run, it can truly work miracles in our lives.

Jerry Sullivan

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