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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

My Journey: The Power of Grace

By Brittany Sylvester
July 6, 2014

Beginning my first year at Evangel University (Assemblies of God) in Springfield, Mo., I never imagined it would be spent largely in a hospital.

My first semester started out busy yet fulfilling between school, church, work and friends. I felt independent and carefree.

Then I got very sick. I dropped to about 90 pounds, I was constantly fatigued, and all I could think of was sleep.

When my parents took me home in November, I ended up in a hospital on a Friday where I was scanned, poked and prodded with no clear answer as to what was causing me to fade away. Two bone-marrow biopsies revealed my white blood count was through the roof; doctors had no other reasonable explanation than leukemia.

On Sunday, the medical team quickly realized it wasn’t leukemia; I had a stroke that morning. By the afternoon, my brain began to bleed. I was diagnosed with disseminated intravascular coagulation. DIC causes a person’s body to rapidly use up all of its clotting agents and then internally bleed everywhere.

I only bled in my brain, but that limited bleeding was critically dangerous. My brain bled the rest of Sunday and into Monday. My family watched, powerless to do anything as I lapsed into a coma.

Surgery offered my only chance of survival, but doctors argued it would be unethical to operate because of the high risk I would bleed to death during the procedure. Finally, one physician agreed to operate, but he made it clear he could not promise anything. My family came to see me for what they believed could be the last time. At that point, I was on life support.

The surgery was on Monday night, Nov. 19, 2012. The waiting room filled with more than 60 people interceding on my behalf. In addition, prayers were lifted up for me across the United States and around the world.

After a few hours, the doctor came out and said the surgery was successful after removing about one-sixth of my brain that had died due to the bleeding. He had never seen such a miracle because the surgery could not have gone any better.

Doctors were dumbfounded the operation had gone so well. But my future remained unclear. The part of my brain that controls the motor skills for the left side of my body had died and been removed. As well, such injuries can cause changes in intelligence and personality. With my anticipated physical limitations, my family and friends could only watch and pray I would be the same Brittany on the inside I had been before my illness.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, I woke up very confused and afraid thanks to a lifeless left side of my body, to silence when I opened my mouth to speak, and to a half-shaved head where my long brown hair had once been. I thought I was going to die. When told what had happened, I began to weep; I could do nothing else. My life had changed forever, and doctors couldn’t even tell me the cause of my medical crisis.

My mind was trapped inside a body that didn’t work; all I could do was hold hands with those I loved and listen to worship music. But that music filled me with peace that truly surpasses understanding. So did passages read to me from the Bible. For example, 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 describes how the apostle Paul pleaded with God to take away his weakness but learned to rely on God even in that weakness.

In the intensive care unit, I wrestled through my thoughts with God. Each time, I was reminded how Christ told Paul His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in weakness. I could identify with Paul, because I was weak in body and spirit. Like Paul, I begged God to take it all away. He didn’t, but He did fill me with peace during the chaos.

I spent about three weeks in the hospital, assuming I would get better, go home, and move on with my life. I didn’t understand the extent of the damage done. A patient doesn’t just “get better” after a massive stroke.

Upon leaving the first hospital, I went to another facility for rehabilitation. By this time, I could speak, but my voice was very weak. My left side was still lifeless, but at least the old Brittany’s spunk and determination were coming back. I spent two months in the rehabilitation hospital learning how to do everything with my nondominent right side while trying to get my brain to create new pathways for movement the missing part of my brain had once controlled.

I slowly regained some mobility and my speech continued to improve, but my left leg was essentially useless. I did not know at the time, but I was never expected to walk again. Around Christmas my therapist told me I needed to order a wheelchair to take home. Devastation flooded me. That day, I became more determined than ever to walk out of that hospital.

Those months were filled with tears and frustration but also miracles and growth. My strength was found in the love, prayers and encouragement from my family and friends. Most of all, I found hope and strength in the promises of Christ.

Only by the grace of God, I walked out of the rehabilitation center in February 2013. I needed a cane, but I was walking. It felt like the happiest day of my life! I was going home and back to a sense of normalcy even though I was missing out on school. I continued outpatient rehabilitation in my hometown three days a week; my next goal was to return to school.

By April, I was walking with only a brace. To my delight, I improved well enough to resume school last fall; but to be honest, it was a difficult transition. I was self-conscious and nervous as to how I would manage being on my own again. My anxious heart was put to rest as God has consistently placed people in my life to provide encouragement and point me towards Him.

My faith feels so weak at times. I still have so many unanswered questions. But God has had His hand upon my life every step of the way. Though I never would have chosen this path, I am encouraged when I hear of how my story has helped someone else through a difficult time. For some reason, He loved me enough to reach down and save a dying girl.

I was not expected to survive or lead a normal life ever again, but through His power, I am alive and walking — I am reminded of His power with every step I take. My intelligence and personality are intact, and I am loving life. I am still the same Brittany.

Although my physical life is different, spiritually and emotionally I have a completely new perspective. I still can barely move my left arm, I walk with a brace, but I look back and see how deeply God cares about me. I have grown so much in my love and reliance on the Lord through all of this.

I hold onto the promises that He loves me, He sees me, He knows the desires of my heart, and He will sustain me.

BRITTANY SYLVESTER is continuing her studies at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.


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