What a Guy Who’s been on a Ventilator for 20 Years Taught Me

About 3 months ago a guy wheeled into our church strapped into a motorized wheelchair and breathing on a ventilator. I didn’t learn his name nor begin to learn his story until about a month ago. I spent an hour with him this week and was deeply moved by his story.

It all began when one of the nurses in our church who serves as one of his 24 hour a day nurses invited him to church. He took her up on the offer and has come ever since. Each Sunday I’ve greeted him and recently decided to invite him to the office for a chat. He gladly accepted and we spent a delightful hour together. At age 46, he’s now been on a ventilator 24/7 for over 20 years due to a chronic illness that has wracked his body. Few people live that long hooked to a machine that keeps them alive. He’s come close to death several times and his brother died from the same disease 10 years ago.

Here are a few insights I gleaned from him.

  • Persistence pays off. When his father died, the insurance company wanted to cancel his insurance. After three years and several lawyers, he beat the insurance company and is still insured. For those three years every day he called the insurance company and told them, ‘I’m going to call you every day I’m alive.” Eventually, his rep would beat him to the phone and would call him before he called her.
  • Dads who plan ahead for their kids really matter. He explained that his dad planned well ahead for his son’s care and when his dad was terminally ill, he didn’t stop planning.
  • Most people won’t even look a handicapped person in the eye. He remarked that several people at our church were very nice to him. That really impressed him. However, he also remarked that in general most people feel so uncomfortable around those with disabilities that they often treat them as if they are invisible.
  • You can’t feel sorry for yourself. This guy was so committed to making something of his life that he started a lawn care business with a friend. His friend cuts the grass and he does the books. He realized that sitting around and pouting about his condition accomplished nothing.
  • Never take ‘no’ for an answer. Twenty years ago the doctors told his parents to take him home and let him die. My friend would not accept that and battled back and lives today.
  • You can’t put a value on a life based on what a person can physically do. My friend can only move his left hand enough to  push the two inch lever for his motorized wheelchair. Yet, he is as fully alive as I am with my body fully mobile.
  • An engaging worship service can touch the heart of an unbeliever. He’s still in his journey toward Christ yet loves what he is experiencing. One of his nurses recently balked at going to church with him. He told her, “Come with me or I get a new nurse.”

So, the next time you see someone in a wheelchair, look at him or her in the eye, say ‘Hi,’ and see what kind of door opens up for you.

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