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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 fifty-five, standing six-foot-six, I had just tried out for the Michigan Men’s Olympic Volleyball team, and there was a good chance I would make it.
Then tragedy struck. In a motorcycle accident, I broke my left leg. Doctors prescribe amputation. Before the surgery, as I lay in my hospital bed discussing with family and friends what life would be like without a leg, a young physician’s assistant named Sarah Scholl said, “Andy, what kind of golf balls do you play?”
That was an idiotic 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 surgery, I was surprised to look down and see two legs and ten toes. Fortunately, the doctors had decided that my leg had enough circulation to save it. But several months of rehabilitation lay ahead. In a later operation, I almost died on the table.
When it was time to transfer to a rehabilitation hospital, Sara took me to the ambulance. “I have a favor to ask of you,” she said. “My dad passed away a while ago. When I get married, I want you to walk me down the aisle.”
“Sarah, it’s doubtful I’ll walk anywhere. Besides, you don’t even have a boyfriend.”
“One day I will,” she said.
Hope and love
At the rehab hospital, where I had pretty much resigned myself to living out 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 accident and waited for him to tell me that he would miss me on the team. But Wilder shocked me: “You get better. I’ll play you if you can get up.”
His words ignited a spark. I went to rehab with a vengeance. Seven months later I was able to appear for the Senior Olympics. Even though I could barely stand, John kept his word: he put me in the game.
When it was my turn to serve, I saw my wife, Kay, sitting in the stands. She usually avoided my athletic events. I couldn’t blame him; I had always put sport before it in my life. But today Kay was not only present, but also shining. As I gazed at her beaming smile, I lost her, right there on the field. Suddenly I understood why God had allowed this accident. He cared so much about our marriage.
I gathered myself enough to serve. We won that game and the next game. As the competition intensified, the coach had to take me out, but our team went on to win the gold medal.
Life from death
At home, my health continued to improve. Then, suddenly, my liver shut down. In a major operation, doctors bypassed it with a shunt. This saved my life, but the unfiltered blood reaching my brain caused my hands to shake so badly that I had to sit on them. I applied for a liver transplant and waited.
A year passed, then two. No call from the transplant hospital. How does one 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?
One day it occurred to me that this was not the first time that someone had to die for me to live. Jesus had done this for me. If God loved me so much, I could trust him with my future.
In what seemed 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 to benefit.
Through the valley
The speed of my recovery amazed the doctors. For the first time in five years I subscribed to a magazine under my own name. But I pushed the rehabilitation too hard. While doing sit-ups, I tore the incision in my abs. During the emergency surgery, the doctors placed mesh inside my abdomen and sewed the muscles in place. A tube was inserted up through my nose and down into my stomach to pump fluids.
After the operation, I had to sit in bed in a position without moving and without food. Time passed so slowly The second the clock hand seemed to stand still. A day dragged on…two days…three days…how much longer would this agony last? I had never felt so hopeless and miserable.
About 4:00 a.m. on the fourth night—the longest night of my life—I cried out to God, “Lord, take me! I can’t do this anymore.” Kay was by my side, where she had been faithfully since my accident. She murmured, “I can’t either.” At that point Kay and I gave up completely. We were at the absolute bottom of the valley – the blackest hole imaginable.
Fifteen minutes later, our surgeon suddenly came into the room and said, “I woke up in the middle of the night with the feeling that something had changed.” He looked at my vitals. “We can get the pipe out.” By the end of that day I was walking. A month later, I was back at work full time.
Jumping and walking for joy
My left leg had no nerves, so I thought my volleyball days were over. But my exercise therapist had an idea. She tied my knees and ankles together 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 friend: “Hey, Tim, I can dance!”
“That’s great! We have a volleyball tournament in Milwaukee in two weeks. Come and play?” This seemed like a no-brainer, but two weeks later, at the last minute, I decided to go. When I came on, my old teammates stood and cheered. It was an exciting scene.
The first five games were tough, but in the sixth game 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 trying to do the impossible. Just do your best and sometimes the impossible happens.
After the match, I thanked my old trainer, John Wilder, for inspiring me in the beginning. “You are the one who deserves the credit,” said John. “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 e-mail from Sarah Scholl: “I have a boyfriend – will you come?”
What a joy it was to walk—not a wheelchair, but walk—Sara down the hall.
Andy DeVries is director of development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A full diary of his journey is posted on caringbridge.org under the name “andydevries”.
His website has had more than 25,000 hits.
2011 Andy DeVries
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