Family

MIRACLE BIRTH

Totally paralyzed by a stroke, Glenda Hickey still had enough love to conceive

BRIAN BERGMAN July 25 2005
Family

MIRACLE BIRTH

Totally paralyzed by a stroke, Glenda Hickey still had enough love to conceive

BRIAN BERGMAN July 25 2005

MIRACLE BIRTH

Family

Totally paralyzed by a stroke, Glenda Hickey still had enough love to conceive

BRIAN BERGMAN

THEY WERE A young married couple, in love and excited by the life they were building together. Glenda and Kevin Hickey had good health, good jobs and two cute-as-a-button daughters. They also shared a passion for snowmobiling, downhill skiing, mountain biking and other outdoor sports. “We were a middle-class family clicking right along,” recalls Kevin. “We were always having fun.”

Then, on the morning of Jan. 21,2000, Glenda collapsed in the kitchen of their home in Leduc, 40 km south of Edmonton. She lay motionless for three hours before a neigh-

bour finally discovered her. After being rushed to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, it took doctors several more hours to determine that Glenda, then 30, had suffered a massive stroke that left her the victim of a rare neurological disorder known as “locked-in syndrome.” She suffered complete paralysis of all voluntary muscles except those controlling her eyes. Glenda remained My cognitive, with the ability to see, hear, sense touch and make her wishes known through eye movements. But she could neither move nor speak. The prognosis was grim: most locked-in patients die within a few months of the initial stroke from blood clots, infections or other complications. For those who survive, there’s no known cure. It’s a life sentence of being trapped in your own body.

After nine months in a physical rehabilitation ward, where she regained some movement in a few fingers, doctors released Glenda into the care of her husband. Around the same time, Kevin was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He was enduring a battery of radiation treatments that left him fatigued and 30 lb. below his normal weight. Still, Kevin kept working as a salesman of heavy equipment parts and tending to Glenda and their daughters, Kaidyn, now 8, and Kennedy, 6. All the while, the bills for medical equipment and home care workers mounted. Were it not for neighbours and friends who held fundraisers and collected more than $150,000 for the Hickeys, the family likely would have gone bankrupt.

In the midst of all this, something unexpected happened: Glenda became pregnant.

While Glenda and Kevin still had conjugal relations, neither one thought it possible to conceive given Glenda’s condition and Kevin’s cancer diagnosis. Family and friends responded warily to the news. How could the couple possibly care for another dependant? And was it even safe for Glenda to carry a baby to term? The expectant parents, both devout Christians, had a very different reaction. Once they determined that the risks to Glenda’s health were manageable, they

‘IT WAS nice to

realize we are still husband and wife,’ says Kevin, ‘and that we can prove that to people’

saw nothing but upside. “After so much negativity,” says Kevin, “we had something positive to focus on.”

On April 25, in what medical experts say seems to be a first for someone with lockedin syndrome, Glenda gave birth by Caesarean section to a healthy 7-lb., 4-ounce baby girl. The name of her third daughter was a foregone conclusion: Hope.

FOR GLENDA, whose mind remains as sharp as before the stroke, communicating is a painstaking process. Normally, she does so with the help of a special computer she is able to control with a couple of barely functioning fingers on her right hand. But on this day, the computer isn’t working. So Glenda sits in her wheelchair in her living

room, indicating yes or no—eyes looking up means yes, down means no—to letters of the alphabet divided into groupings. In this way she spells out her answers.

How did she feel when she learned she was pregnant? “Shocked,” comes the first reply, followed by “excited.” What’s been the impact on the family since Hope arrived? “A new joy and light,” is the answer. Does she consider Hope a miracle? This time, no interpreter is needed. Glenda’s eyes roll upward several times—an emphatic yes.

As we converse, a caregiver wanders through the room, giving Hope a bottle and then gently bouncing and burping the baby. Glenda’s eyes take it all in. Her face, though largely paralyzed, is tremendously expressive. It’s clear when she’s happy, sad or distressed. Glenda is also capable of rich, bodyshaking laughter, usually provoked by one of her husband’s playful wisecracks. It may be no more than the rapid intake and outlet of air, but it’s infectious all the same.

Sitting across from Glenda on a sofa, Kevin recalls the anxious hours after the stroke. That was when he gave the go-ahead for the risky surgery to relieve the clot in her neck that had blocked the oxygen to Glenda’s brain. He remembers the doctors’ pessimistic warnings that she would likely live only months, and the understanding he and Glenda came to once she left the intensive care unit. “I asked, ‘Are you prepared to fight and make a go of it? Because if you are, then every day of your life I’ll work hard with you.’ And that’s how we committed to each other.”

The top priority for both of them was getting Glenda home—out of an institution. Not everyone supported that idea. “From the get-go,” says Kevin, “some people said, ‘Why are you taking your wife home? You’ve got your hands full with your two kids.’ I told them, ‘No, I need her help.’ I call things from the hip, while she’s the thinker. So two heads are better than one.”

Getting Glenda home, however, required

assistance covers seven hours a day of home care, while he needs about double that. “If she was in an institution,” he says, “she’d be getting 24-hour care. We just want a fair share to make this work.” Kevin says his reaction to the pregnancy was much like Glenda’s—shock and awe. “I know of couples who are struggling to conceive,” he says, “and look at us two wackos, we’re having a child.” Glenda erupts in laughter at this, but then Kevin turns serious. Baby Hope, he says, has been nothing but a blessing. “It was nice to realize that we’re still husband and wife and we can prove that to people,” he adds. “Because every relationship that gets this way, the couple always splits up, right? Because it’s too hard. And you know what? It is hard.”

Both Glenda and Kevin say their faith helps sustain them. All the same, says Kevin, after her stroke and his cancer diagnosis, “I pulled over to the side of the road a couple of times and had discussions with God. Him and I went at it. I had a lot of questions and I wanted answers. I said, ‘Prove it to me, Buddy.’ And in a way, He did.”

much adjustment—and financial hardship. The family moved to a larger, more wheelchair-accessible house. Kevin started his own parts company, which he runs from a basement office to be close at hand. Glenda, who is fed through a tube to her stomach,

is unable to dress or bathe herself. Caregivers come in during the day and Kevin takes over at night and on much of the weekends. The local health authority pays for some of this, though not nearly enough, Kevin contends. He figures government

WHEN THE interviews are over, Kevin retires to his office, where pictures of Glenda in more carefree days line the bookshelf. There she is on the night before their wedding, clowning for the camera. In another, taken just months before her stroke, Glenda has her arms around her two very young daughters and is beaming away. “That’s one of the reasons I married Glenda,” says Kevin. “She always had a million-dollar smile.” Against all odds, she still does. Iffl