Everyday Heroes

Everyday Heroes

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Everyday Heroes

I don’t remember having a hero as a child, although there have been individuals throughout my life that I greatly respected. I found my hero much later in life, and he wasn’t at all like I imagined a hero should be. He wasn’t rich and famous. He wasn’t a star athlete or a movie star. He was just a guy I’d taken for granted all of my life. This is a story about my hero, who also happens to be my big brother.

My brother, Tony, met his wife, Sheila, while he was in medical school. I remember attending his graduation and meeting her for the first time. Sheila was from England, and she was full of life. She had a smile that brightened any room and she loved to laugh. Sheila was a nurse, and at that time, nurses were in high demand. She had been recruited by U.S. hospitals, was given a work visa and settled in the Dallas area. Sheila met my brother at Parkland Hospital, where she was employed as a nurse and he was a medical student.

Tony had always been too consumed with his schoolwork to become involved with anyone on a regular basis. Somehow, though, I knew that this was more than a casual romance. I caught a glimpse of them sitting quietly in the auditorium, holding hands, deep in conversation. After graduation, Tony accepted a residency in Louisville, Kentucky. Sheila moved with him. While living in Kentucky, Sheila went on “holiday” to Canada. When she attempted to return to Kentucky, she was refused entry into the United States because her working visa had expired. She was deported to England, and it took a month or so to clear up the mess. Tony, meanwhile, was going nuts without her. The minute Sheila returned to Louisville, they were married. The following year, they flew to England, where along with our parents, relatives and a few friends, they were remarried in a traditional ceremony, top hats and all. So their life together began.

The first few years of their life together went fairly smooth, other than a few moves—Kentucky to New Mexico, New Mexico to Texas and then back to New Mexico. During that time, their two boys, Cameron and Sheldon, were born, three years apart. My brother had accepted a position with the University of New Mexico Medical School, and Sheila was working as a nurse in the intensive care unit of the same hospital. In 1989, they bought a beautiful new home in Corrales, New Mexico, complete with a corral and pasture, and with a beautiful view of the mountains. Sheila had always had a passion for horses, and their new home offered her the opportunity to pursue her hobby on a daily basis.

New Mexico can be a really nice place to be in the spring. On April 22, 1989, it looked to be one of those beautiful spring days, a great day to spend outdoors. Tony decided to take the boys on a fishing expedition. Sheila had a new horse to train. No one knows for certain what happened on that day, but from what information could be pieced together, Sheila was riding in the pasture when her horse fell. Sheila fell forward, face down into the grass and mud, and the horse landed on top of her, pressing her face into the mud and cutting off her air supply. Across the pasture, their neighbor, who was also a physician, was outside working, when he saw Sheila lying in the pasture. When he reached her, she was unconscious and not breathing. The neighbor began emergency treatment and called the air rescue unit. Sheila was transported to the hospital where she and my brother both worked. Tony saw the air rescue helicopter from their fishing spot, not suspecting it could be Sheila. Tony and the boys returned late in the day to the news of the accident.

I was preparing to go on a picnic when my mom called and told me. All of my family headed to Albuquerque to be with my brother. Sheila had a fractured skull, was breathing with the help of a respirator and was comatose. We did not know how long she would remain unconscious or, for that matter, if she would ever wake up. We did not know how much damage had been done to her brain as a result of the trauma. I remember not knowing what to say to my brother as I watched him by her side, holding her hand and talking softly to her. I watched as the nurses Sheila had worked with the day before cared for her in her unconscious state. I thought about how quickly things can change in life and how different my brother’s life might be if she did not recover. Months after the accident, Tony told me that one night he prayed and asked God to take her quickly if she wouldn’t be able to live without the artificial support she was receiving. He said he felt a strange calmness after that, and that he just knew everything was going to be okay. Sheila’s eyes opened two weeks after the accident. Once again, they began a life together.

The damage from the accident was evident. Sheila had no memory. She could not walk, talk, bathe or feed herself. She needed help with every basic function. The doctors believed that Sheila would eventually regain some of her motor skills, and perhaps some of her memory, but it was going to be a long and difficult journey. Tony began a daily ritual of reviewing pictures and names with her, working a full day and then returning after work for a couple of hours. Once home with his boys, he fixed meals, read stories and tucked them into bed at night. Although he was exhausted, he never complained. This ritual continued even after Sheila was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, where she remained for several months. When Sheila was finally able to come home, she could not walk, her speech was barely audible, she could not write and she had no memory. She did not remember their meeting or courtship, nor did she remember their wedding or the birth of their children. For the longest time, she thought that Tony was an auto mechanic. Still, Tony bathed her, styled her hair, lavished her with gifts and attention. Progress was very slow. As time went on, we began to relish even the smallest accomplishment—new memory, remembering family names, cutting her own food, brushing her own hair, walking a few steps with a harness.

Even though Sheila was making progress toward self-sufficiency, most of her daily care was left up to Tony. This dependency must have been hard on Sheila, and she seemed very depressed. I worried that their marriage would not survive. The love, laughter and life they once shared no longer existed. Every day was a struggle.

Then it happened. The moment that my brother became my hero. I was visiting for the weekend. Sheila sat in her wheelchair. Tony was running around like a madman, cleaning and cooking; the kids were watching television; the stereo was playing—typical Saturday morning chaos. All of a sudden, Tony turned up the music really loud. He began to snap his fingers and dance all by himself. All of us were looking at him, when the kids giggled and began to dance along. The kids and Tony were laughing and dancing and having a grand time. Tony looked over at Sheila and noticed tears streaming down her face. Sheila loved to dance, and it was as though at that moment, she remembered their life before. Without saying a word, Tony walked over to her and picked her up from her wheelchair. Holding her tightly, he rested her feet on his shoes and began to dance with her around the room. Time seemed to stand still, and everyone was silent as we watched them dance about. Then, the kids began to smile and giggle, and as everyone joined in enthusiastically, Sheila smiled and started to laugh. It had been a long time since we had seen her smile; it seemed like forever since we had heard her laugh. I looked at my brother as he stared at his wife, and not only could I see the love for her in his eyes, I swear I could feel it from across the room. At that moment, I found my hero.

It has been almost ten years since that awful day in April. Tony, Sheila and their boys still live in their home in Corrales. Tony continues to practice medicine. The boys are now thirteen and eleven, and active in sports and school. Sheila has continued to make progress and is now self-sufficient. Sheila walks with the help of a cane, drives, takes care of their home and once again passed her board exams for nursing. Although she has never regained all of the memories of her past, she is now able to remember much more than ever before. They continue to struggle with the challenges that face those individuals in recovery from a serious accident, but their commitment to one another remains intact. As I have watched them struggle with each of their challenges, I have often been reminded of that simple moment that had such an impact on my life. I now realize that simple moments and actions are what can make a difference in someone’s life. Eleven years ago, I didn’t have a hero, but I found one in an ordinary guy that I am also proud to call my brother.

Shawn Blessing

More stories from our partners