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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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More Than a Thousand Words

Jeffrey and Kenny

Jeffrey and Kenny

By Donna Lowich

"Walter, whatever happened to those pictures I had taken of Jeffrey and Kenny before I had my surgery?" I don't know why I asked or what made me think of them. The thought hit me out of the blue. More than two years had passed since I had last thought about those pictures.

Walter looked at me, trying to think of just which pictures I was asking about.

"You know, the ones I took with the boys sitting in front of the fireplace."

He shook his head, and said, "Gee, I don't know. With everything going on, I forgot completely about them. Too bad, they're long lost by now. It's been too long."

"I know," I pouted. "But those pictures would have been so cute, and they would be such a great reminder of the way things were..." The part of the sentence that I didn't say was: "and a great way to keep focused on my therapy so everything can be like that again."

The pictures were taken on the last visit my sister made before my scheduled spinal cord surgery. She brought along my nephew, Kenny, who was not quite three. He and my son, Jeff, who was four, played together all day. Then I sat them in front of the fireplace. The pictures were going to be Christmas gifts for my sister and my mom.

It was November 1985 and only two weeks before my scheduled surgery to repair a herniated disk in my neck. I was supposed to be out of work for six weeks, and then return to life as usual. That sounded like a good plan to me. But there was one flaw:

After the surgery, I awoke in the recovery room paralyzed from the shoulders down. I was in the hospital for those six weeks and then in the rehab hospital for another five months, returning home on June 13, 1986. My return home didn't mark the end of my work, but rather, just the start of it. I worked every day after that to recover from my paralysis. Between raising my family, and returning to work while continuing physical therapy, I lost track of those photos taken of Jeff and Kenny sitting in front of the fireplace in their new Christmas sweaters.

Now that I remembered the pictures, however, they were on my mind. I thought about calling the pharmacy and asking about them but dismissed that idea because it would have been too embarrassing to ask for pictures dropped off for processing so long ago. Instead, I imagined what the pictures looked like, and whether I centered them (I always have a hard time centering), and I played the tape over and over again in my mind of that last visit before my world went topsy-turvy.

"That's it," I decided to myself, "I want those pictures because they symbolize my life the way it used to be and the way I want it to be. Dear God, those pictures would be so wonderful to have..." It was this unspoken prayer that I thought had gone unanswered.

After awhile, the pictures came to mind less and less often, replaced by everyday life and everyday worries. Life was an emotional roller coaster: For every upbeat day when I saw even a little bit of improvement there always seemed to be paired with a "down" day that emphasized what I still needed to improve. It was with that up-and-down state of mind that I faced the challenge of my physical therapy sessions five days a week.

Then one night, in October 1988, the phone rang after dinner. I answered:


"Hello, may I please speak with Donna?"


"Donna, this is Tina from Warrenville Pharmacy. I have an envelope of pictures here for you to pick up."

I could hardly believe what I was hearing; there must be some mistake. I answered, "I'm sorry but I haven't dropped any pictures to be developed to you, at least, not recently."

"These are from a while ago," she said. She laughed a little. "We're cleaning our files here and I found the envelope."

Stunned, it took me a minute to speak again. "My pictures? You have my pictures? Thank you so much! I've been hoping and praying for a phone call like this. Thank you so much! We'll be down -- tonight -- to pick them up!"

"You're welcome. See you in a little while."

Walter drove down to pick up the pictures. Coming home, he smiled and said as he opened the envelope for me, "Wait until you see them. You took some great shots of the kids together."

I looked at each picture carefully, trying to memorize each small detail. I picked out one that was especially cute, with Jeffrey and Kenny with their arms wrapped around the other's shoulders, with their faces slightly touching. I had copies made for my sister and my mother, so they received their Christmas gifts, albeit with a three-year delay.

I framed my copy, too, and placed it on the shelf in the living room where it continued to give me the incentive to continue my battle to recover the function I had lost. Worth far more than a thousand words, these pictures encouraged me to focus on my physical therapy and to achieve well beyond the dire predictions made by my doctors in the hospital. With the boys grinning down at me, I received the needed incentive to repeat my floor exercises over and over again. I progressed from wheelchair to canes.

My prayers were answered on so many levels; the pictures and the memories they represented were not only a Christmas gift to me, but they also gave me the impetus to keep pushing forward. The miracle of the long-lost pictures continues to amaze me. Miracles come in all sizes; this miracle, which may not seem significant in and of itself, was a huge, life-changing event for my family and me.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Pediatric SCI (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Religion and People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Children with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Parenting with a Disability (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Mindfullness (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on New Injury Top 10 Questions (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Umbilical Cord Blood Banking (PDF)

Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD)Dept of Physical Medicine and Rehab Services at Baylor College of Medicine.

Kosair Charities Center for Pediatric NeuroRecovery at the University of LouisvilleThe Kosair Charities Center for Pediatric NeuroRecovery provides activity-based therapies to promote recovery from neurologic injury in children; conducts research to enhance recovery; and trains families, practitioners and scientists to maximize recovery and improve the quality of life for children and their families. In short, we are here to help kids kick paralysis and through science have every reason to hope.

Mobile WomenArticles, resources, online forum for women with disabilities especially wheelchair users.

National Resource Center for Parents with DisabilitiesA deep resource on childbirth and parenting, adaptive equipment for childcare, networking and support groups

Parenting with Disabilities OnlineProvides information, support and resources to parents with disabilities.

Parents On WheelsSite is dedicated to parents who use wheelchairs.

Parents with Disabilities OnlineProvide information and resources to parents with disabilities.

State Respite CoalitionsThe Chapel Hill Training-Outreach Project was established in 1969 with funding from the Federal government as part of our nation's earliest attempts to provide educational services to young children with disabilities.

Through the Looking GlassThe purpose of the National Parent-to-Parent Network at Through the Looking Glass is to connect parents, as well as those who are considering becoming parents, with others who may have shared similar experiences or faced common barriers as parents with disabilities.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.