Linda and Laura Shepherd
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Hope Interrupted (Laura's Story)
(c) 2003 Linda Evans Shepherd
It was the day after Christmas and my mom and I had spent the day shopping with baby Laura in tow and now we were heading home for dinner.
As I drove down the highway, I peeked in the rear view mirror and into the happy face of Laura, my 18-month old baby, snuggled safely in her car seat. I smiled. "Honey, we'll be at Grandma's house soon."
Suddenly, taillights blinked red just ahead. My foot pressed the brakes and the car lurched, skidding into the path of an oncoming minivan. My mother's screams pierced the air as I fought the car for control. The minivan tried to serve out of our path, but to no avail. Our car lunged toward it at sixty-miles-per-hour.
The thundering impact exploded around me. When I opened my eyes, I gasped, surprised to be alive. I turned to mom. She looked okay. But then I heard it. Silence.
Laura should be crying. Why wasn't my baby crying?
I turned and looked into the backseat. But the backseat had been ripped off the car.
Clawing my way out of the wreckage, I found my baby. Laura was still sitting in her car seat, dazed and still, in the middle of the freeway.
I knelt in the mud beside her and cried out to God, but as I prayed, I sensed our world was forever changed.
Once at the hospital, I pushed open a heavy emergency room door and crawled on hands and knees to the window that overlooked the doctors' valiant fight for Laura's life.
There I watched, wept, and prayed until I was finally discovered by a passing nurse. She ushered me back into the waiting room and into the arms of my husband, Paul, who had just arrived.
"Is Laura going to be okay?" he asked.
"I don't know. I, I think she has a fractured skull." I cried.
That evening we were moved to ICU where Laura quaked with seizures. But after the surgeries to relieve the building pressure in her brain, Laura remained hooked to life support, unconscious.
I kept my daily vigil by the still body of my child for weeks. One day, one of Laura's doctors dropped by to see her.
"There's still no change," he said. "You might as well
I felt startled. I knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to tell me to end my baby's life!
"But," I argued, "Laura's brain waves are active. She's not dead."
The doctor stared at me and tried to say more, but as he faced my hope, he fell mute and slowly turned and walked away.
In the weeks, then months that followed, I clung to my hope as well as my faith in God. When Paul and I were able to fly Laura from Texas to another hospital closer to our home in Colorado, I knew things would be different.
Two weeks later, the new hospital staff finished their evaluation of Laura and called a meeting.
"My husband's out of town today," I explained to the doctors. "Could we postpone this meeting until he arrives tomorrow?"
"No need to wait," the doctors explained. "You already know what we're going to say."
I smiled. I did know. They were going to tell me of the therapy treatment they use to coax children like Laura from their comas!
But once the meeting started, how stunned I was when one, by one, twenty-four healthcare professionals encircled me to pronounce their verdicts.
"Your daughter is not in coma. She's in a vegetative state."
"She'll never wake up."
"She's a vegetable."
"There's no hope."
I sat stoic, bent on gleaning information before my threatening-tears stopped the meeting. But though I was a brave actress, I felt numb, violated, shocked.
Later that night I sat in the stillness of my daughter's hospital room, holding her hand, watching for signs of life. As I studied her, Laura looked as if her dark lashes would flutter open and she would sit up, ending our almost two-month-long nightmare.
How I longed to hear Laura's giggle as she snuggled with her silky hair against my cheek while I read to her from one of her favorite books.
Impulsively, I leaned over and kissed her cherubic face. "Honey, it's Mommy. I love you...I know you're in there. I'm waiting...."
The words caught in my throat. The mechanical breathing of her respirator jarred my thoughts. A strange mood of uncertainty settled over me. I looked at the child I had fought and prayed so hard to keep. She's really in there, isn't she?
I stood up, trying to shake the doubt that had suddenly caught me off guard. Noticing my watch read 11 p.m., I decided to get ready for bed. Because Paul was still out of town, I wouldn't drive home, but would sleep over in Laura's room.
Flipping off the light, I shut the door. The nurses had already completed their evening rounds. It would be hours before anyone would check on us. I felt alone, too alone. I popped two extra-strength pain relievers and sat the bottle on a nearby tray table beside my glass of water. What if the doctors are right-and Laura never wakes up? I thought as I spread a blanket in the window seat.
Fluffing my pillow, I wondered about God. Maybe He's abandoned us. Maybe He isn't going to answer my prayers.
This new thought punctured my tired spirit. Just who am I trying to fool? I questioned. I need to face facts, Laura will never awaken. She'll live the rest of her life, as a vegetable, hooked to life support.
I tried to stifle the emotions that began to boil as Laura's respirator mocked, no-hope, no-hope, no-hope. My chest constricted as I gasped for air. Everything seemed so different, so pointless. Laura, I decided, would be better off if she were...to die. After all, I concluded, I couldn't allow her to live in this suspended state of life, could I?
A plan rose from my grief. I couldn't bear to ask the Doctors to take my child off life support after I'd prevented this action once before. But now, I realized Laura's smile would never return. My dreams for her life were dashed. And God? He had been as silent as Laura's stilled voice.
Perhaps God's silence meant I needed to take matters into my own hands. Perhaps it was up to me to end this horrible suffering.
I can kill Laura without the doctor's help, I reasoned. I can turn off the alarms and unplug the vent from the wall. It would be so simple, except...except, I wondered, if I kill my daughter, how could I live with myself? How could I face Paul or my parents?
The moonlight reflected on my bottle of pain killers. If I swallowed them...no one would find us until morning...Laura and I could...escape...this living hell... Together.
Just as my plan seemed like the only solution, I found my hand resting on my belly. My hidden child was only two weeks old, but I knew he was there.
My thoughts slowly cleared. How could I kill myself? How could I kill Laura? A new life was growing inside of me. A life that had the right to live!
My reasoning returned, Lord, I'm willing to wait-despite the pain and the cost. I'm willing to wait on You.
That night I cried myself to sleep, terrified of the future and terrified of the murders I had almost committed.
But despite my night of terror followed by my surrender to God, Laura remained unchanged. As she continued to sleep, my girth grow. Nine months later, I held my newborn son, Jimmy in my arms. Once home from the hospital, it was his cries that finally awoke Laura from her coma!
Though Laura returned to us paralyzed and on life support, she is a happy child, full of understanding and joy. Though unable to speak, Laura is able to silently communicate her wishes and feelings through tongue-signals and facial expressions. Now seventeen-years-old, Laura beams with joy, laughing at our jokes and enjoying the world around her.
But some would question her right to live, asking if her life was truly viable.
It's then I think back at the charge Jesus repeatedly gave in his earthly ministry. He charged us "To love the Lord with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves."
High resolution version of picture below. (scroll down)
Laura and her speech therapist Pam, playing with stuffed animal
Laura has taught her family how to love. When I see Paul's love for his daughter and see Laura's little brother, now a teen, hug his sister and tell her how much he loves her, I'm so proud.
Then, when I look into Laura's innocent, joyous eyes, I can see that despite her handicaps, Laura loves her Lord and those He has put into her life more purely than anyone I know. Her life is viable indeed.
Your life is not only vialbe, it's valuable too. You have a purpose. You may be tired and weary, but did you know that the Bible says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (from New International Version)
I have learned to give my burdens to God, as my life hasn't been so grand either. I can honestly say that despite my troubles, I have real peace and real joy. So can you. Not only give your troubles to God, through His son Jesus, give Him your sins as well as your life.
Linda's thoughts about execution of baby Emilio Gonzonles, Click Here.
- Article about Defining Life and Death, quoting Linda, Click Here.
To read about Linda's confrontation with Michael Schiavo in Denver, Click Here
- Listen to Radio Interview about Linda and Laura, Click Here
Linda's bio and noncopyrighted high resolution photos are available after the story below.
- To See Front Page Newspaper Stories about Linda and Laura Click Here.
- To See TV Interview Clips, Click Here
- To see article on CBN.com, Click Here
- See Pamela F. Hennessy commentary - When a Mother Loves
- See Linda's press release below.
- See story about the accident, following...
Linda Evans Shepherd lives at home in Longmont, CO with her husband of 26 years and their two children, Jimmy and Laura. Linda is an author and speaker, the publisher of Right To the Heart of Women Electronic Magazine and president of the nonprofit organization, Right to the Heart. See: VisitLinda.com
See more pictures below...
Speech and Language Therapist; Pam Hyink with Laura
Laura with her family.
Laura with mother, Linda and father, Paul, Christmas 04.
Pam Hyink and Laura playing with jewelry box.
Linda Evans Shepherd
Linda Evans Shepherd lives at home in Longmont, CO with her husband of 26 years and their two children, Jimmy and Laura. Linda is an author and speaker, the publisher of Right To the Heart of Women Electronic Magazine and president of the nonprofit organization, Right to the Heart.
Laura's Press Release
A Mother of a Disabled Child Speaks Out For Terri Schiavo
Linda Evans Shepherd
We mourn the passing of an innocent soul, Terri Schiavo, sentenced to die by the Florida courts for the crime of pvs (persistent vegetative state,) which was most probably a false diagnosis.
Sixteen years ago, my then 18-month-old daughter Laura was also given a false diagnosis of pvs as well. "Scientifically speaking, you can't tell pvs from coma," I challenged the medical community at the time.
Nevertheless, their recommendation was to pull the plug on Laura and to diagnose me as being in a state of denial. I stood firm and kept Laura 'plugged in.' "God can take Laura if He wants her, He doesn't need me to pull her plug," I'd said.
Happily, time proved the doctors to be in the wrong about my mental state as well as my daughter's state of pvs when she finally awoke from her coma, happy to be alive but severely brain damaged, like Terri.
Hard to believe, but a false diagnosis of pvs happens up to 43 percent of the time. This is a frightening discovery as pvs appears to be the newest capital crime.
Terri Schiavo was issued an "Order of Execution" from Florida's Judge Greer even though she had not been re-evaluated for pvs in more than five years. That original evaluation consisted of a bedside observation and did not take place in a clinical setting. My question is: Was Terri even awake during her exam? Did she dislike the doctor and therefore decided to give him the cold shoulder? My daughter has often done that very thing to members of the medical community in Denver.
Still we have to ask, why didn't the courts allow a reevaluation? This is especially puzzling as doctors and scientists are learning the brain can regenerate itself. At least, that's what one neurosurgeon told me after viewing an MRI of my daughter's brain that showed remarkably less damage than the MRI taken 14 years earlier.
I for one believe Terri was not pvs, but alert enough to respond and communicate to her friends and family.
Pam Hyink, a certified speech and language pathologist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado, who had sent Judge Greer a signed affidavit on Terri's behalf, had seen the videos of Terri and agreed that her pvs diagnosis was false.
Said Hyink: "In my 34 years of practice in working with the disabled, there is no question in my mind that Terri Schiavo communicated. I feel Terri could have been taught to use body language such as eye gaze, tongue signals, head turning or eye blinks in order to communicate in consistent ways."
Terri's husband has argued that Terri would not have wanted to live her life 'incapacitated.' Did Terri share that same opinion? Why didn't anyone ask her? According to her family, Terri was never given any speech or language communication therapy. Why not? Why was half a million dollars, earmarked for improving the quality of her life, spent in court to end her life?
"Terri needed a fair chance, a fair and appropriate evaluation by a communications specialist," Hyink said.
I agree. Pam Hyink helped my own brain-damaged daughter utilize her tongue signals and taught her how to communicate effectively. Today, 18-year-old Laura has about the same level of alertness as Terri had and communicates very well with her signals. I am absolutely convinced that Terri, if she'd been given a chance, could have communicated effectively as well. Once she learned to communicate, she could have answered questions like: "Do I want to live?" Instead, the court and her husband kept her silent.
My daughter has taught me that the profoundly disabled have a purpose, even if only to love and to be loved. Terri had that as her "quality of life."
As a citizen, I believe the order of execution - to be starved to death - was inhumane and unconstitutional in a land whose citizens are created equal.
Judge Greer stopped the feeding of Terri by spoon, even disallowing 'swallowing,' which is a voluntary action. Does this mean all disabled people who need a spoon feeding can be executed if society decides the quality of their lives is not to its liking? I shudder to think that even the elderly population of nursing homes could be extinguished on these grounds, unless we change our laws.
As the mother of a similarly challenged person, I realize that Terri's crime of being disabled is one that has been committed by millions of Americans. If we don't stand up to protect these precious persons, who will? And who will draw the line at who is too disabled to live? Considering that the elderly and disabled population was the first group targeting by death during the Nazi holocaust, we have to ask, where does this stop? If we as a society are unable to protect the innocent, we will lose our very soul.
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