March 5, 2007
For the love of Charity
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
RICHLAND, Miss.—A 2-year-old’s birthday party just naturally prompts smiles. But the grin on Tiffany French’s face is especially wide as she watches daughter Charity tear into her gifts.
This is one young mom who feared she’d never see the day. Just three months after giving birth, French suffered a paralyzing stroke.
It happened when mother and child were alone in their Richland home. And French won’t soon forget lying helpless while her hungry baby cried for hours. “I was screaming: ‘Lord, manifest an angel and feed my baby.’ And I screamed to the garbage man: “Help us please.’ When my mother-in-law got there six hours later, I had lost my voice from screaming.”
French spent the next three days in ICU, 11 days in the hospital and another two weeks at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. Next came a stint at Quest, a Methodist Rehab outpatient program that helps people with acquired brain injuries make a successful return to work, school or community life
Quest clients are expected to work toward specific goals, and French had no problem choosing her focus. She wanted nothing more than to be a full-time mom again. “Charity was my reason for surviving,” she said. “If not for her, I probably would have given up.”
French’s stroke was ultimately attributed to an undiagnosed heart abnormality. But it didn’t help that the then 26-year-old also had high cholesterol and was stressed out over her father’s recent death. “Charity was born just six weeks before my dad passed away,” she explained. “Six weeks later, I had my stroke.”
The blood clot that lodged just behind French’s right ear paralyzed her left side and made her vulnerable to frightening seizures. She even blacked out one night and fell and broke her left foot.
In the midst of her struggles, French learned that doctors had discovered a two-inch hole in her heart. “It had probably been there since I was born and they said when I got over the stroke, I would have to have heart surgery,” French said. “They said if they didn’t fix it, I wouldn’t live past the age of 40.”
While French’s physical problems were daunting, she actually felt more debilitated by her frail emotions. “By the time I got to Quest, I was very depressed,” she said. “Everything was piling up. It was hard being away from my daughter. And I had to learn to grieve my father and some loss of myself.”
French was able to turn to Quest’s team of neuropsychologists to learn ways to cope with her feelings. She also benefited from the emotional support of other Quest participants, who provide been-there, done-that empathy for the struggles of everyday life. “The advantage of coming to Quest is we provide all types of services to help clients adapt to their new circumstances,” said Quest therapy manager Julie Walker.
During her first six months at Quest, French worked with the program’s physical and occupational therapists to regain as much function as possible on her left side and to improve her endurance in preparation for heart surgery. After her surgery, French returned to Quest and worked hard on therapies designed to foster a return to her homemaker role.
To help French adapt on the home front, Quest physical therapist Rachel Dear and occupational therapist Lisa Poe suggested ways to make her kitchen more conducive to one-handed cooking and also devised strategies for diapering, dressing and bathing Charity.
Walker said Quest staff members are always on the lookout for ways to further a client’s interest. In French’s case, that meant finding opportunities for her to minister to children and indulge her passion for music and crafts. The answer was a volunteer position teaching arts and crafts at Brandon Christian Academy. And it wasn’t long before French was also back singing at her church, First United Pentecostal Church of Brandon.
Today, a cane and a brace on her left leg help French get around. And despite limited movement in her left arm and hand, the now 28-year-old is able to manage most of her mommy duties.
“With the help of Methodist Rehab and the Lord, she has come a long way,” said her mother Ann Gilbert of Brandon. “She amazes me. Even after losing her father and having the stroke and open heart surgery, she has not been one to lie around and complain. She has met challenges head on.”
While French also gives Quest staff a lot of credit for her comeback, she said they were basically fine-tuning “what God had already healed.” She believes her family’s strong faith pulled her through and she’ll be relying on God’s grace to help her handle whatever is ahead. “If God chooses not to heal me, I want to learn how to survive with one arm and hand. I’ve learned everybody should take advantage of the time they have.”
Tiffany French takes special delight in watching her 2-year-old daughter Charity tear into her birthday gifts.