Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”
She was diagnosed in 2013 with systemic scleroderma, an autoimmune disease which involves the skin, gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels), lungs, kidneys, heart, and other internal organs. It can also affect blood vessels, muscles, and joints. The tissues of the involved organs become hard and fibrous, causing them to function less efficiently. The term “systemic sclerosis” indicates that sclerosis (hardening) may occur in the internal systems of the body. This is not a pretty disease.
As the skin starts to harden it makes movement very difficult. A couple of times during the course of this disease she has been threatened with amputation of toes or even feet because of low circulation, which can cause deep ulcer-like sores, which would turn gangrenous and cause tissue death. But God has intervened. Her rheumatologist has put her on medication which is usually given to heart patients that “blows open” the blood vessels as much as possible, giving her extremities all the blood and oxygen her body can offer.
She still has both feet and all of her toes; both hands and all of her fingers.
One of her favorite hobbies is crocheting. She may have trouble some days holding the crochet hook, but that doesn’t stop her from picking up that hook and making something beautiful for her grandchildren, including the newest one that’s on the way.
She loves to cook. But right now her husband has to do the cooking because she can’t hold the pans or the utensils. She can’t bake because she can’t put the pans in the oven or take them out without dropping them. But one day again, she believes she will.
But this piece is not about her disease. It’s not about how long she will live with this, because the Lord is the only one who knows that answer. It’s about faith. And I can honestly say I wish I had the amount of faith this woman and her husband have. During the entire course of this disease, neither one of them have lost their faith in what the Lord can do.
I’m sure they’ve both asked God, “Why me?” Or, “Why her?” I don’t know whether they’ve gotten any answers or not; if they have they haven’t shared them with us. Which is fine. That’s a very personal answer, and I don’t know whether I would share it or not either. They’ve prayed for a miracle. Their whole family continues to do so, and so do many others.
About six months ago she started having trouble eating. Her food was not digesting, in fact it seemed her stomach was shrinking so that she couldn’t eat very much at each meal. She started having to eat six or seven very small meals each day in order to get nourishment. It became increasingly harder for her to eat, and she wasn’t getting the proper nutrition she needed to fight this disease.
She consulted her doctors and discovered after a number of tests that all of her internal organs had rearranged themselves. Her stomach and intestines had migrated to her left upper body. Her esophagus had shortened. Her left lung had not been inflating properly because of the overcrowding, and as a result she was not able to do much of anything because of lack of oxygen. Her lower body cavity was basically empty. She was unable to eat normally, surviving on several very small meals each day. This condition is known as diaphragmatic hernia; more about this condition can be found on line. An emergency repair was needed to head off gangrene, necrosis, strangulation, the risk of stomach contents becoming toxic, and other major digestive issues.
They consulted a team of doctors who had actually successfully done this type of surgery before, and several times. However, with her systemic scleroderma, her odds of even surviving the surgery were only 20%. And the odds of recovering from it were about the same. No other scleroderma patient has been known to have this particular surgery before.
During the course of testing to see if she was a candidate for this surgery (because of the scleroderma) the doctors discovered that her blood vessels and major organs are now showing better function than they had even ten months earlier. It appeared that the disease may be in remission! Why? There’s no known medical reason, but we all know the reason. Prayer works!
But back to the surgery, and the decision that had to be made. What would you have done? She and her husband prayed about it and with no hesitation called the doctors and scheduled the 10-12 hour procedure for the week before Christmas. As they both said, it’s in God’s hands, and He will keep His promises.
That’s faith. True faith. True trusting in the Lord, no matter what man says.
Shortly before the surgery, she wrote on her Facebook, “If it is my time to go, my family will need your support and prayers. It is well with my soul, so I will be dancing with the angels and worshiping my Father. I will have no more pain. My spirit is eternal so I will BE…. He is my God. Either way. No matter what, I will worship Him.”
The operation was long, but not the ten hours originally quoted. A little over eight hours, actually, which is still a long time to be under general anesthesia. Her husband was anxious of course, but he remained calm and relaxed as we sat in the surgical waiting room. Friends, family, and pastors came and went, keeping her husband company the whole time. We prayed; we laughed; we talked; we read magazines; we even discussed football and politics; and waited for news. Nurses came in off and on to give updates that all was going well. And we rejoiced.
Shortly before 11:00 that night we got the news. She was out of surgery and in ICU. The next day she was moved to a step down unit where she started using her new elongated esophagus to swallow ice chips, and over the next few days, other clear liquids and jello.
Three days before Christmas, just six days after the surgery that had offered only a 20% chance of survival, let alone recovery, her husband drove her back to their home to spend Christmas with their family. Her Christmas dinner was most likely to her, one of the best she’d ever had, even though it was only juice.
On New Year’s Eve she downed an entire package of instant cheese grits. While it may not sound wonderful to you or me, to her, it was an enormous step towards recovery.
Today she continues her miraculous recovery, and she and her family and friends thank the Lord every day for what He has done, and for what He continues to do.
This is faith. And it is the miracle of the Lord’s blessings upon this woman and her family.