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Walking by Faith: The Story of Andrew DeVries
Athletics has always been the most important thing in my life. In fact, at age fifty-five, six feet tall, I’d just tried out for Michigan’s senior men’s Olympic volleyball team, and there was a good chance I’d make it.
Then tragedy struck. I broke my left leg in a motorcycle accident. Doctors prescribed amputation. Before the surgery, as I lay in the hospital bed discussing with family and friends what life would be like without a leg, a young doctor’s assistant named Sarah Scholl said, “Andy, what kind of balls do you play golf?”
It was a dumb question, but I told her “Titleist Pro V1”. The next morning, a 12-pack of Titleist Pro V1 golf balls was next to my bed. Sarah’s gift gave me a glimmer of hope.
When I woke up after the operation, I was surprised to look down and see two legs and ten toes. Luckily, the doctors had decided my leg had enough circulation to try and save it. But months of rehabilitation awaited us. In a later operation, I almost died on the table.
When it came time to move to a rehab hospital, Sarah took me to the ambulance. “I have a favor to ask of you,” she said. “My father died some time ago. When he gets married, I want you to walk me down the aisle.”
“Sarah, I doubt I’ll ever walk anywhere. Besides, you don’t even have a boyfriend.”
“Someday I will,” he said.
Hope and love
At the rehab hospital, where I had basically resigned myself to living the rest of my life in a wheelchair, I got a call from John Wilder, my volleyball coach. “Congratulations, Andy, you made the team! You’re playing in the Senior Olympics.”
I told him about my crash and waited for him to say he would miss having me in the team. But Wilder shocked me: “You look better. I’ll play you if you can stand it.”
His words lit a spark. I went to rehab with a vengeance. Seven months later I was able to show up at the Senior Olympics. Even though I could barely stand, John kept his word: he put me on the line.
When it was my turn to serve, I looked at my wife, Kay, sitting in the grandstand. She usually avoided my athletic events. I couldn’t blame her; I had always put sports before her in my life. But Kay wasn’t just there today, she was beaming. As I watched her radiant smile from her, I lost it, right there on the field. I suddenly understood why God had allowed this incident. She cared so much about our marriage.
I gathered enough to serve. We won that match and the next. As the competition intensified, the coach had to eliminate me, but our team won the gold medal.
Life from death
Back home, my health continued to improve. Then suddenly my liver shut down. In major surgery, the doctors bypassed it with a shunt. This saved my life, but the unfiltered blood reaching my brain made my hands shake so violently that I had to sit on it. I applied for a liver transplant and waited.
A year passed, then two. No calls from the transplant hospital. How do you pray for a transplant? For me to live, someone else had to die. What makes me better than someone else’s husband or someone else’s father?
It occurred to me one day that it wasn’t the first time someone needed to die in order to live. Jesus had done it for me. If God loved me so much, I could trust him with my future.
In what appeared to be a divinely inspired conversation, Kay and I learned that Indiana had twice as many registered organ donors as Michigan. So we rented an apartment in Indianapolis and applied for a transplant. Within two months we received a call: a man had died in an accident; I was one of ten transplant candidates who would benefit.
Through the valley
The speed of my recovery amazed the doctors. For the first time in five years, I subscribed to a magazine in my name. But I pushed rehab too much. While doing sit ups, I tore the incision in my abdominal muscles. During emergency surgery, the doctors placed a mesh inside my abdomen and stitched the muscles in place. A tube was inserted through my nose and down my stomach to pump out fluids.
After the operation, I had to sit in bed in one position without moving and without food. Time passed so slowly that the according to the hand of the clock seemed to have stopped. One day dragged on by… two days… three days… how much longer would this agony last? I had never felt so desperate and unhappy.
At about 4:00 on the fourth night, the longest night of my life, I cried out to God, “Lord, take me! I can’t take it anymore.” Kay was by my side, where she had been faithfully since my accident. She murmured, “Me neither.” At that point Kay and I completely gave up. We were at the bottom of the valley, the blackest hole we could imagine.
Fifteen minutes later, our surgeon unexpectedly walked into the room and said, “I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like something had changed.” He looked at my vital signs. “We can remove the tube.” By the end of that day I was walking. A month later, I went back to work full time.
Jumping and walking for joy
My left leg had no nerves, so I figured my volleyball days were over. But my physical therapist had an idea. He tied my knees and ankles so I could jump rope. I worked up to two jumps…then six…then twenty! I was so excited that I called an old volleyball teammate: “Hey, Tim, I can jump!”
“Great! We have a volleyball tournament in Milwaukee in two weeks. Are you coming to play?” It seemed far fetched, but two weeks later, at the last minute, I decided to go. When I introduced myself, my old teammates stood up and cheered. It was an emotional scene.
The first five games were tough, but in game six I got a perfect set and a legit kill. A few minutes later I blocked for game point. This taught me an important lesson: don’t waste time wishing you could do the impossible. Do your best and sometimes the impossible happens.
After the game, I thanked my old coach, John Wilder, for inspiring me in the beginning. “You’re the one who deserves the credit,” John said. “You never gave up.”
“Actually, John, I gave up, but God never gave up on me.”
In 2009, seven years after my accident, I received an email from Sarah Scholl: “I have a boyfriend, will you come?”
What a joy to walk, not in a wheelchair, but to walk, Sarah, down the aisle.
Andy DeVries is director of development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A complete diary of his journey is published on caringbridge.org under the name “andydevries”.
His website has had more than 25,000 hits.
2011 Andy DeVries
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