Ann’s* childhood on the family farm was uneventful until the morning she woke up unable to move from her neck down. She cried out to her parents.
Her dad rushed into her room and quickly realized the family doctor needed to come to the house.
* Her real name, used with permission.
After a quick assessment, the doctor loaded Ann into his car and took her to their small town hospital. Trying not to panic, her parents followed.
As any eight-year old child would, Ann felt scared.
The feel of the cold, metal table they laid her on to complete a spinal tap is etched in her memories. “I don’t remember much more as I think the fear I felt blocked out everything else.”
When the test results came back, the doctor ruled out spinal meningitis and diagnosed Ann with the polio virus.
Ann was sent to a much larger hospital that was equipped to treat polio.
Gamma goblin shots or “hot shots” were given in her hips once an hour to prevent the polio virus from progressing. Ann’s family was quarantined at home to prevent any possible spread.
She vividly remembers seeing the other patients with polio just down the hall. Her emotions ran in every direction upon realizing those patients were much worse off than she. While she was wrapped in wool blankets, those patients were lying in iron lungs to help them breathe.
“Even though I was young, I knew how fortunate it was that my paralysis did not keep my lungs from breathing.”
Her community and church were extremely supportive and helpful to Ann and her family during her month long stay in the hospital.
Because of the damage from the polio virus, the doctors cautioned Ann’s parents that she might not walk again without assistance despite Ann insisting she could. At the end of her hospital stay, Ann was sent home with a wheelchair and crutches.
The doctor’s negative and limiting prognosis fueled Ann’s determination to prove them wrong. The crutches were necessary for a while as the calf muscles in her legs had begun to atrophy.
“I wanted to walk again, so I planned to do every exercise I was given to make my legs and body stronger,” Ann remembers.
With intense physical therapy, Ann began walking within six months of going home.
Making progress so quickly filled her with hope, but fear of a different strain of polio returning often popped up in her thoughts.
A year after her diagnosis, Jonas Salk’s vaccine was made available to the public.
Ann was administered the vaccine, and it eased her fears.
A residual weakness in her legs impacted her childhood, making outdoor activities more difficult. The swollen glands on the back of her legs took years to return to normal.
The polio impacted her dental health as one of her back molar teeth never developed.
Several years later, Ann’s tonsils were taken out. She and her mom noticed how much stronger and healthier she felt overall after the surgery. “My mom felt my infected tonsils might have contributed to me contracting polio.”
Because polio caught her in her developing years, her ureter tube had to be rebuilt when she was 18 years old.
“I started smoking when I was 21 years old. Smoking three packs a day for years and years was not good for my body, but I was addicted.”
Quitting was much harder than she thought it would be.
Just needing time away, she drove down to her beach house by herself.
“For years, I tried quitting smoking on my own, but I would go right back to it. While at the beach, I thanked him for all He’d given me. Then, I prayed about my addiction. I knew I needed his help. I agreed with God that my body was a temple and smoking wasn’t honoring Him.”
When she woke the next morning, after 28 years of being addicted, she had no desire to smoke again. “I asked for his help to break my addiction, but I never expected a miracle!” Ann shared.
Taking a week long vacation several years later to her second home at the beach should have been relaxing, but waking up and not being able to walk validated her underlying fear of contracting polio again.
Alone and three stories up amplified her panic.
Instead of calling 9-1-1 for help, Ann crawled around the floor to gather her clothes and personal items. “Somehow I had enough strength to pack the car. I ate something and then drove six hours home. I was a nervous wreck while driving.”
The next morning she saw her internist. He referred her to a doctor who specialized in post polio syndrome. Ann underwent a battery of tests, but thankfully she did not meet the criteria for post polio syndrome.
Instead, a neurologist diagnosed her with fibromyalgia. Medication and a daily swim workout still keep her symptoms at bay.
In 2000, while in court to settle a dispute with a renter, Ann encountered a guard and some female prisoners.
“I felt God telling me I needed to share my miracle of breaking my addiction with female prisoners. I knew God has no favorites. He loves them just like He loves me. If He could break my addiction, He could break theirs, too.”
Through a church ministry, Ann was able to fulfill the desire God placed on her heart.
She served as a volunteer chaplain for five years, meeting once a week one-on-one with female prisoners to share hope and God’s word.
Due to security restrictions, the prison ministry program where Ann served was discontinued. “I don’t think God’s finished with that ministry with me yet,” Ann shared at our interview in June.
Because I have always wanted to serve in prison ministry, I connected with this part of Ann’s story.
In July, Ann was approached by her current church to participate in our city’s jail ministry. I asked to join her, and now Ann and I meet twice a month with female prisoners to listen and encourage them.
The first time I went to the jail with Ann, she shared about her addiction and how she broke free from it. One of the prisoners admitted she desperately wanted to break her addiction to meth. The connection between them was immediate.
Because of Ann’s story, the prisoner’s heart was ready to hear about how God loves her and wants her to live in freedom, too.
Ann begins every morning by being still before God as it says in Psalm 46:10.
Her advice to others who are facing struggles comes from what she’s learned during her mornings with God: “Putting on my armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) helps me build my faith in Him. Finding specific scriptures to say helps me fight against any struggles I face.”
“Throughout my life, I’ve learned the more I step out in faith, the more my trust in Him grows,” Ann shared. “Overcoming is truly about trusting God.”