Laura HTigard, ORThis ismy fight
My name is Laura I was born in San Fransisco in 1969, yet spent most of my childhood living in the suburbs of Palo Alto CA. I am the second eldest, in a family of four kids, I being the only girl. Our family attended First Congregational church which we were very involved in. God was ever present in our lives, we never knew anything different. My love for music and singing started at a young...
My name is Laura I was born in San Fransisco in 1969, yet spent most of my childhood living in the suburbs of Palo Alto CA. I am the second eldest, in a family of four kids, I being the only girl. Our family attended First Congregational church which we were very involved in. God was ever present in our lives, we never knew anything different. My love for music and singing started at a young age.
I have fond memories of a happy childhood filled with imaginative wonderment, amazing vacation experiences, singing in choirs, road trips, camping and tons of activities. Being the only girl I always wanted to keep up with my brothers, so I played all kinds of sports, soccer, softball, basketball, even was on a swim team. I loved to climb trees, fences, anything for that matter. I was constantly on the move, loved to roller skate or ride bikes down town and even had my own paper route, 200 papers, which I carried in my bags and delivered to our neighbors on my bike. I was involved with Girl Scouts, making the top cookie seller badge two years in a row and my friend and I started an entrepreneurial raking service. I was driven and loved challenges. I was quite daring and feisty, if you said I couldn't do it, I would prove you differently. My mom remembers when I was the only one out of my siblings willing to jump off the high dive, or jump off the highest rock into the freezing cold river water below. Little did I know then, that in a few years when I became a teenager, I would need that strength and feistiness, because I would be facing one of the hardest most difficult challenges of my life, and that my carefree world as I knew it, would be forever changed.
I remember it like yesterday, the day of my eigth grade graduation, I woke up not feeling so well, but I was determined to play my Cello in our junior high Orchestra for the graduation ceremony, I had to be there. So I went, got thru the ceremony, but continued to feel sick. That day marked the first day of a long bout of illness. That summer after graduating I continued to be very sick, high fevers of 102 day in and day out. I was extremely lethargic, and quite anemic and even experienced swollen joints on our vacation back east.
Upon returning I spent alot of time at the hospital having all kinds of tests, ruling out different cancers, and various other illnesses. I was given a slew of blood tests, I felt like a human pin cushion being poked and prodded continually. I couldn't understand why they kept taking more and more blood out of me, no wonder I'm anemic, I told my Mom. After seven months of pain staking tests and no answers, they finally figured it out, It had a name, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. What? Say that again? I thought only old people had arthritis, not me, I'm too young. Where was God in all this? I was confused, sad, angry.
I remember bits and pieces of that time when I was first diagnosed. The first year I was tired all the time, extremely pale and didn't want to do a whole lot. I remember my best friend Karen took me out in a wheelchair and wheeled me around the neighborhood. In the beginning they had me taking 15 aspirin a day. For my first year of High School I attended at the most 3 classes per day, my mom would take me and then pick me up from school. When aspirin didn't work they tried gold shots which I ended up being allergic to. It's all kind of one big blur, that time of my life. I was sad, frustrated, questioning God's love for me, yet even then, deep down I knew His strength would get me through whatever lay ahead and that He would never leave or forsake me. My parents and I found comfort and solace in connecting with our local arthritis foundation, which put us in touch with other families who were experiencing the same thing as we were. I met other kids who had Juvenile Rheumatoid arthritis and suddenly didn't feel so alone.
When I was fifteen, we left everything and everybody we knew to start a new chapter in our lives. We moved to Oregon. I had a difficult time adjusting to the new move, I was in a new high school, having to make new friends, attend a new church. I was already not feeling well, now I had to reach out. My girl friends were into boys, makeup, grades, all the things teen girls were into, my world consisted of medications, consistent pain, emotionally feeling alone in my disease, struggling each day to survive, yet I always felt God's presence there watching over me. He sent friends who loved and supported me. When in school I got all kinds of help from counselors and aides, at home, my parents, and my church. We quickly became involved with the Portland Arthritis Foundation.
After I graduated from high school I attended the national juvenile rheumatoid arthritis convention in Anaheim California. Connecting with others going thru the same situation gave me strength, encouragement, hope. I knew in my heart that I wanted to give back, to encourage and that perhaps someday I would work for the Arthritis Foundation. I had the opportunity to go and lobby on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on behalf of the American College of Rheumatology. In 1987 my senior year of high school I chose to be baptized, to declare to the world my love for God. That next Fall I attended a local Community College nearby, my hope, to raise my grade point average, and then transfer to a private college. There was never any question in my mind I would attend a university. So I continued to live at home and commute to college each day.
In 1988 I had the rare opportunity to travel to Australia for two weeks as part of the college's choral group where we sang in Sydney at the World Expo, it was amazing. While I was living at home I visited many different Colleges, some local and a few in different states. One college in particular spoke to me, I knew in my heart from the moment I walked on the campus that God had brought me here for a purpose. So, in the fall of 1990 I began attending Pacific Lutheran University. I was excited, scared, anxious, all the things that a kid leaving home for the first time feels. I wasn't sure what my health would be like, how I would navigate getting around campus on the extremely painful days, but again with God's strength and help from friends, I persevered through the difficult days. I had the most wonderful, God loving, understanding, patient, helpful roommates who later continued on in their education to become Physical Therapists, no surprise to God there. Towards the beginning of my second year, I began experiencing pain in my left hip, each day the pain became increasingly worse until it was so bad I couldn't sleep, it became agonizingly unbearable.
So, I left school to have tests done. We had an MRI, got the results back, and were dumbfounded, sad, not happy with them. Three opinions later, all the doctors said the same thing, I had Avascular Nucrosis in my left hip, which by definition is a death of bone tissue due to lack of blood supply. Not only was it in my left hip, but also in my right and that I would need to have both hips replaced right away. So again I questioned, Why me God? Didn't I have enough on my plate? This was something else I would have to deal with aside from my arthritis. The doctors wouldn't say, but I believe it was from the mass steroids I took over the years to treat my arthritis. So, with prayer and God's strength I left school, and at the age of 21 had my right hip replaced, went through the healing process, then promptly had the other one done. After a year of surgeries and healing, I returned to school with cane in hand, then quickly graduated to crutches. I had asked the surgeons if I could keep my hip bones after the surgeries, so I could display them on a chain around my neck. They laughed, and said yes. Unbeknownst to me, the tissue dies as soon as it's cut out, I was given a small jar with a blackened, grossly disfigured hip ball for display, yuck. I kept it for a week, then buried it.
In June 1994 I finally graduated with a BA Communication Public Relation emphasis, a monumental, wonderful accomplishment. That last semester I remember being hopped up on pain pills, the cartilage in my knees had increasingly deteriorated and I was doing everything I could to finish before they gave out. I remember graduation day, a dear friend from my dorm was going through a battle of her own. She had recurring cancer from childhood and had to have her leg amputated. As I watched her hobble on crutches across the stage to receive her deserved diploma I was in awe, she received a standing ovation. I recalled a conversation we had had earlier in the year, in which we were discussing our various illnesses. She told me, and I will never forget this, that when she went to heaven she couldn't wait to be with Jesus, free from pain and suffering and how she longed to be able to run side by side Him on the Heavenly shores. A month after graduation I had bi lateral knee replacement surgery, I kid that it was my graduation gift. I remember after the surgery being put in contraptions that continually bent my knees, their purpose to get as much range of motion as possible. Unfortunately, they were not able to get their desired outcome, so I was put back under anesthesia to basically crank on my knees and manipulate them beyond what I could humanly bare awake. In the recovery room I woke up in the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced. They were pumping me full of morphine, yet the pain was horrible, they told me, if they gave me any more, it would kill me. Sadly, my knees never got back the range of motion they had hoped for. The recovery process was grueling, after my hospital stay I was transferred to an inpatient nursing facility for recovery, care and physical therapy, I aptly referred to my therapists as physical terrorists. In the midst of rehabilitating I heard that my college friend Heather, the one who had cancer and lost her leg, one of my heroes, had passed away.
I felt alone, devastated, heartbroken. God sent an angel to comfort me while I was grieving in the form of a young male nurse. Normally, I wouldn't be comfortable with a male assisting me, yet from the time he walked into my room, and sat by my bedside I felt peace, love, complete joy in the midst of my suffering, my sadness. He listened, like an old friend who I had known forever. Later I wanted to thank him, but he was nowhere to be found, no one had even heard of him. Thank you God for sending your angel to comfort me. I spent several weeks in that care facility and continued rehabilitating at my parents home.
I remember one day so clearly I was sitting out on my parents deck, dark clouds loomed overhead. Feeling alone, sad, hurting physically, emotionally, I cried out to God, telling him I didn't know if I could go on, I said I have no tears left, I had cried buckets of them. I was tired... I shouted out to God ,what is your purpose in all this, why me? I thought of my friend Heather running into the arms of Jesus and I was jealous, I wanted to be doing that as well. I pleaded with the Lord to take me home. I wanted to be free of pain, suffering, heartache, tears. And then the sky opened up and a beam of warm sunshine caressed my face, and I felt God at that very moment. The peace that surpasses all understanding came upon me and audibly I heard God speak to me. My precious child I'm sorry you are hurting, I love you. He said, it's not your time to come home, I need you here, I have so much planned for your life, so much beauty and purpose. You see my child, your purpose is to share my love, my joy, my heart with everyone you see, to show how you can have joy in the midst of suffering. Someday, my child I promise you will see this disability as a gift, an ability, a strength, full of beauty. It's then I knew what God wanted from me and with faith unseen I moved forward with hope and a renewed sense of purpose and continue to this day.
As I look back on my life at that time how could I of really understood and believed all the beauty that God had in store for me. If I had gone to be with the Lord that day, taken my life, I would have missed out on so much, all the blessings God had for me. That next year I used my PR degree and worked for the Arthritis Foundation, a dream Of mine. A year and a half later I met an amazing young man in our church youth group, he had me when he gazed at me with his beautiful green eyes over his glasses.
Then I found out he had been working as a patient transport for six years up at Oregon Health Sciences University, and I knew it was as if God was preparing him for me. What I remember most is that I never felt different with him, like I had arthritis, I felt comfortable, normal. I was always the bridesmaid never the bride, I had pretty much felt I like I might become a nun. How was I ever going to meet a guy who could handle my arthritis, when I could barely handle it myself. Until I met Kris and then he knew, I knew. We dated eleven months, got engaged on Valentine's Day and were married 6 months later. We were married Aug 15, on the front of our program we had the inscription "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." He truly had given us the desires of our heart in each other. God has a crazy sense of humor, because on our honeymoon while strolling along lovers point in Monterey, my foot accidentally slipped off the rope which acted as a foothold for my legs, landed on the asphalt and catapulted me out of my wheelchair. I was in an arm sling, on heavy meds and throwing up the rest of our honeymoon. God ushered my new husband into his new role quite abruptly, welcome to our lives sweetheart.
Our first year of marriage was quite crazy, I remember fighting a lot, trying to meld our lives together, yet given time, we came to understand and appreciate our differences.
After our fourth year of marriage we began praying for the possibility of having a family. We were unsure of the ramifications of birthing our own children, how would it affect my arthritis, how would we care for the children, diaper changing, car seats, seat belts, physically carrying the kids, so much to think about...
What were the chances of our kids having arthritis.
Our Doctor a Christian himself, prayed with us at each appt. He said that I would have to get off all my arthritis meds six months before even trying to conceive. It was hard to imagine what that would look like? Would I be able to handle the pain in the interim? After much prayer and consideration we took a huge leap of faith and went for it. The doctors put me on a low dose of medication which looking back at pics gave me a huge moon face, at the time I really didn't care. I really felt great when I was pregnant, as if I was in a remission of sorts. God got us pregnant the first month with our son Kyle, then the second month with our son Micah, and the third month with our son Luke. My Mom gave us a beautiful gift of the services of a mother's helper for as long as our children were young.
Due to weight gain from the first two pregnancies and complications arising from surgeries in the past I had lots of difficulty with walking, it was extremely painful for me. If we went anywhere that involved walking for even a bit we would take my electric wheelchair. I fondly remember putting my babies in my front pack and wheeling through the neighborhood, it gave me a freedom I otherwise didn't feel. My feet pain continually got worse and the specially made orthotics put in my shoes weren't cutting it anymore. I naively believed that if they could just give me a new orthotic it would be enough. I went in and consulted with a podiatrist, when he saw my feet he said its no wonder why I was in so much pain, it looked to him as if I was walking on sprained ankles, it wouldn't be a quick fix, I would need to see a surgeon. So we went and consulted with a surgeon who upon first meeting him said he had done a handful of these surgeries, and three had ended in amputation. As you can imagine, I was devastated, I went in hopeful and left hopeless. We ended up getting a second opinion, thankfully God led us to a surgeon that was willing to do the reconstructive surgery, giving us hope again. So, with that hope, faith and lots of prayer we went ahead. I was to have reconstructive surgery on both of my feet, but we would only be able to do one at a time. I wouldn't be allowed to put weight on my foot after each surgery for awhile, and our wheelchair couldn't fit down the hall to get to our room, so we ended up making a makeshift hospital room, out in our living room, toward the back end, complete with hospital bed, a special table and a portable toilet, for privacy we hung sheets up. I pretty much lived in that room an entire year, through two surgeries in which they pretty much broke and realigned, fused each ankle and put pins in the toes to straighten them out, then I would heal from each one , took an entire year. When all was said and done I joked that it looked like Home Depot in both my feet. I remember recovering sitting up in my hospital bed watching out the window while my 3 year old and 13 month old son's jumped on our trampoline, supervised by our Mother's Assistant. Our boy's squeals and laughter brought such joy to my heart, a gift from God, a healing balm to my tired soul. After that year Kris and I decided we would like to have another baby, so again we tried and got pregnant the third time, we were blessed with yet another son in 2007. Three beautiful, healthy sons, God 's gift to us. "Every good and perfect gift comes from above." James 1:17
When we were dreaming of having a family I always envisioned having a daughter. See I had grown up with three brothers and I felt it was my time to have a girl. I was sure God would grant us a daughter, so when we found out via the first ultra sound we were having a boy I was disappointed for a day, then when I held Kyle for the first time, I was completely in love, the thought never came back about having a girl, until the next pregnancy and ultra sound, surprise, another boy. By our third pregnancy we had pretty much given up the idea of having a girl and then yet again another boy. God's desires aren't always ours, but He knew what we needed even before we knew. Our three sons are our pride and joy, our three loves and we wouldn't trade them for all the daughters in the world. When our children were young God provided help in the form of a succession of mother's assistants. I remember feeling so frustrated I couldn't get down on the floor and play with them, or lift them from a standing position. But the boys adapted quickly to mama's needs, they learned to crawl under my legs while I was in a sitting position and I would lift them from there. Instead of focusing on what I couldn't do, I focused on what I could do with them. I held and rocked them, breast fed them, sang and read to them bible songs and stories, loved them in the way I was able.
Life has a way of speeding up as we get older. Sometimes I can't believe where the time has gone. Today I have been married 18 years, my boys are 9, 11 and 13, I can hardly believe I now have a teenager.
Has my life been hard, challenging, trying, difficult, painful, excruciating at times?
Indeed, See God didn't say this would be an easy road for any of us. In fact, He said just the contrary, He tells us in this world you will have trouble, but He also says, take heart I have overcome the world.
Amidst all the pain, suffering, sickness and hardship, there is light, there is hope, there is joy, there is God comforting, giving peace, giving strength, and waiting with open arms to someday bring us home to an eternity free from suffering, tears, pain. My hope is in the Lord, everyday I wake up, truthfully in so much pain I want to give up, crawl back in bed and sleep forever. Yet, the Holy Spirit lifts me up, encourages me, reminds me of where I've come from, how far I've come, and how incredibly, truly blessed I am. I am able to look back now, since that horrible day my life was to change so drastically, when I was first diagnosed with arthritis. Now I see clearly the beauty that has come from it, the amazing, incredible way God has orchestrated my life, how loved I am. I can be joyful in the midst of my suffering, knowing that it ultimately brings me closer to Him. I am thankful, truly grateful for all that I've been through, it has given me an appreciation for life, not to take things, people, friends for granted. To slow down And find joy in the simple pleasures of life, glorious sunsets, the smiles on my boys faces and the oceans grandeur.
So who do I fight for? I fight for God, for my family, my friends and for all of you who are faced with the in and out, every day struggles of JRA and the various other forms of Arthritis, yet you continue with hope, to go on, with courage, strength, resilience and faith. YOU are all my heroes❤ud83dude0a