When I met Shari* and her friends Lisa and Genie for lunch, I gave her the mug I give to the overcomers I interview. She gasped, “Never give up is the theme of my life. I can’t believe it’s on this mug!”
The tears in her eyes expressed how much the idea of never giving up resonated with her.
* Her real name, used with permission.
A headache at the beginning of the day in October of 2006 worsened as the day went on. Teaching second graders is taxing on a normal day, but that day was tougher than most. Shari persevered despite the intense pain in her head.
By the time she left school, she could barely see and felt extremely nauseous. Knowing she committed to taking a young girl to the movies that night, she drove to pick her up. Shari has no memory of picking up the young girl or taking her to the movies.
Others who joined Shari and the girl at the movies told her later that she was calling the children she knew well by the wrong name and kept her hand over her right eye during the movie.
After the movie, Shari called one of her friends’ daughter, Katie. “My head is hurting so badly I can’t take care of the girl who’s spending the night with me. Would you please come play with her and spend the night? I’ll take you to your school activity in the morning.”
Katie was happy to help, so Shari drove to Katie’s house to get her. Again, Shari doesn’t remember calling Katie or picking her up.
Katie showered and dressed the next morning. When she didn’t find Shari in the kitchen, she became worried. Finally, she found her in the bed.
Katie called her mom Lisa and said, “Ms. Shari’s still in bed. Something’s wrong. She’s vomited all over herself.”
When Lisa arrived, Shari was dressed and sitting in a chair. Lisa asked, “Are you OK?”
Instead of responding, Shari stared right through her. “She was in a daze, even confused. Her tongue was black and chewed up. These behaviors were so unlike her that they were red flags of something being very wrong with her,” Lisa shared.
Pam, a close friend who is also a nurse, arrived minutes later and insisted Shari be taken to the hospital. Shari’s son, Kyle, who had worked late the night before was awakened and followed them to the hospital.
A CT scan showed Shari had suffered a brain aneurysm.
Once she was moved to the neuro ICU floor, three neurosurgeons assessed her to determine next steps. Two neurosurgeons agreed she would not make it through surgery; however, Dr. Middleton asserted Shari would die without surgery.
Because so much blood was draining into her brain, time was of the essence. Dr. Middleton shaved the right side of her head, surgically repaired the ruptured vessels, and put a drain in her head.
A few days later, Shari coded. Dr. Middleton determined a seizure had caused another brain aneurysm. Another surgery was performed to add a shunt, which would drain excess blood into the peritoneal lining of her stomach.
While recovering from her second brain surgery, Shari had a hemorrhagic stroke that affected her right side.
Shari remembers not being able to recognize family and friends.
With so much damage to her brain, her doctor wasn’t sure she’d ever leave the hospital. Her son, Ryan, refused to believe the dismal prognosis.
To his family and friends, he said, “We’ve got hope, don’t we?”
Posters, Scripture verses, and letters from her students covered the wall in her ICU room, which encouraged her to never give up.
Shari’s sons – Adam, Ryan, and Kyle – rotated shifts at the hospital so one of them would be there to support her. “I was their main focus. They were incredible,” she shared.
Having to relearn the basics – going to the bathroom independently and feeding herself – was a requirement before she could move to a rehab hospital.
Jumbled, unclear speaking and messy handwriting lingered after the aneursyms and stroke. A speech therapist and occupational therapist worked with her to recover the neurological skills she lost.
Her son, Ryan, gave her a white board so she could write messages to people and play tic-tac-toe.
Despite her new struggles, those who visited Shari found she still was upbeat, positive, and sharing her big smile.
After two months in the neuro ICU, Dr. Middleton declared Shari beat the odds. Knowing she’d continue to get stronger and stronger, he sent her to a rehab hospital/nursing home.
Shari met with her physical therapist to complete her therapy, but that wasn’t enough for her. “I lived in the therapy room, so I could do even more exercises. I walked and walked the halls – 25 laps in the morning and 25 laps in the evening. I was determined to get better and get out of there,” she shared.
Not only did her speech therapist have her read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, but Shari also had to write a report and type it. “I remember it being hard, but I liked the book.”
With her birthday and Christmas just days apart, Shari ordered pizza and had it delivered in the garden of the nursing home.
It was at this party that Shari became fully aware of what had happened to her. “What am I doing here?” she asked her friend Pam.
Her support network rallied around her, encouraging her to keep fighting and to never give up.
Wanting to go home was something Shari thought about every day.
Her bags were packed every day when Lisa visited her at lunch. Finally after five months of rehab, Lisa was able to tell Shari it was time to go home.
Being home was no picnic. Having much less energy and feeling fatigued all the time meant a lot of sleeping.
Because she was so full of energy and always on the go before her aneurysm and surgeries, the fatigue was extremely frustrating.
Shari’s sons didn’t just take care of her during her time in the hospital or during rehab. They were very instrumental in her care for several years. Kyle dropped out of college to care for his mom.
At her six month appointment with her neurologist, he shared Shari’s EEG results. He said, “Your brain is perfect. There is no evidence you had an aneurysm.”
She immediately acknowledged how those results could be true: “It can only be God.”
Shari’s relationship with God grew exponentially during her health struggle. “I learned every day of life is a wonderful gift, and we should cherish every moment. Even though I have a strong belief in never giving up, I realized how thankful I was for the strength and energy He gave me.”
Shari believes overcoming is rising above the tough situations you face and getting on with your life.
She is definitely getting on with her life!
She hasn’t returned to full-time teaching, but the “Pied Piper of Children” can be found teaching Language Arts two days a week at a local school and volunteering at her church in the nursery and at VBS.