EDITORS’ NOTE: The following two stories are part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
GREENVILLE, S.C. (BP)–Kim Chapman says she has always believed in God because she has always been told she is a miracle from Him.
Eighteen-year-old Chapman lives with the neurological disorder of cerebral palsy. She has just completed her freshman year at North Greenville University in South Carolina, with a 16-hour spring course load of English, Old Testament, Principles of Management, Principles of Accounting and Marriage and the Family.
Chapman’s goal is to earn a master’s degree in business to someday open a daycare center for special needs children. Her favorite Scripture is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In an e-mail interview, she reflected, “This is my favorite verse because it tells me that even though I can’t do some things, I can do ALL things through Christ.”
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, cerebral palsy affects about 10,000 babies born in the United States each year. About 800,000 children and adults in the United States live with symptoms disorder, which mainly entails a lack of muscle coordination and impaired mobility, involuntary muscle responses and possibly impaired hearing, vision or speech.
In most cases, cerebral palsy is caused by a pre-birth event such as a maternal or fetal infection, abnormal brain development, bleeding inside the brain of the fetus or an insufficient supply of oxygen. CP acquired after birth might be caused by a head injury or brain infection.
Chapman’s cerebral palsy was brought on by complications during her birth that deprived her brain of oxygen. Kim nearly drowned in the amniotic fluids, her mother Suzette Chapman said, and it took doctors more than an hour to revive her. “But she was a miracle and got to come home 13 days later,” Suzette said.
For the first year, Kim had several doctor’s appointments each week and lots of physical therapy. “It was hard the first year. Kim cried a lot and didn’t sleep much,” Suzette recalled. “We had no clue for a while; we thought Kim just had tight muscles that needed to be stretched.” But when Kim was eight months old, doctors concluded that the disorder would be permanent, diagnosing her with cerebral palsy.
Today Kim uses a wheelchair for mobility, needs someone to help her with meals, and her speech is very slurred. But Kim’s CP did not impair her mental capabilities. When asked what she would most want people to understand about her, Kim said, “I want people to know I am normal. Also, that I live life to the fullest and love it. And I’m a follower of Jesus!”
Kim credits her parents with pushing her toward independence. “They didn’t always try to help me with everything. They taught me to dress myself, feed myself, and basically they taught me to be myself no matter what. Even though they have always said I was special, they taught me what the word ‘special’ meant.”
After the diagnosis, Robert and Suzette Chapman determined not to treat Kim any differently than Kim’s older sister, Crystal. “If we treated her differently, it wouldn’t be fair to either daughter. And it might have held Kim back if we had,” Suzette said. “There were things we had to do that we didn’t have a choice, but we still treated them both the same.”
Keeping Kim in school was the most difficult task, Suzette said. Kim was able to attend a therapeutic program her kindergarten year. For her to continue in public schools, the school district had to furnish an aide to stay with her at all times.
High school became their greatest challenge, as the Greenville County school district wanted Kim to go to a satellite school for handicapped children. Kim had never been in any kind of a program and refused to go. Blue Ridge High School finally allowed her to enroll there, which was out of their way, but they made the drive nevertheless.
“The administrators originally thought that since Kim was speech-impaired that she was mentally handicapped,” Suzette said. “But she had a 4.4 grade point average at the end of the first year.”
Kim graduated with high honors and received several scholarships and grants to continue her education. She applied to North Greenville University and was soon accepted. However, there was no NGU program to provide her with an aide to help Kim from class to class or assist her with meals.
Kim e-mailed a friend, Joy, with the news that she had been accepted but was not going to be able to NGU. Joy, who also uses a wheelchair, had become Kim’s friend through the YoungLife high school ministry. Joy talked to her father, Mayson Easterling, about Kim, and he called Kim the next Monday.
Easterling is NGU’s vice president of denominational relations, with responsibility for the Baptist Student Union. Easterling and the Baptist Student Union responded to Kim’s needs by forming a special Impact Team — the name of the BSU’s ministry teams — to be Kim’s “aide”
“If it had not been for Mayson Easterling, Kim might not have gotten into college,” Kim’s mother gratefully acknowledged.
Kim’s Impact Team is made up of 10 to 12 girls who rotate duties being Kim’s aide. Each class period, someone on the Impact Team takes Kim to her class and places her on a rug on the floor in a position that enables her to take notes. Someone else picks her up from class and takes her to the next class or to lunch.
Heather Givens, a broadcast media student who just completed her junior year at NGU, has the duty of helping Kim with lunch. Before Heather knew about Kim, she had been stirred by some teaching on living out her your faith and by the Casting Crowns song “If We Are the Body.” The song “talks about reaching out, and that you can be a Christian and live holy,” Heather said, “but if your hands aren’t helping or your mouth isn’t teaching….”
Heather continued, “I started thinking about it, and Jessica (the resident assistant in her dorm) told me about Kim. I thought, ‘Heather, this is going to really stretch you. At college you are always busy. This will be a big-time pressure thing to get her to class on time.’ But my time and her time for lunch were the same so I became the one to feed her. It has been a blessing to do it.”
At first, Heather didn’t understand much about Kim’s disability. She wondered how she would know what Kim was saying and didn’t know for sure whether Kim was mentally handicapped.
“I asked a lot of yes or no questions,” Heather said. “But as I felt more comfortable, I asked her questions about her CP. She told me about when she was born and how the doctors didn’t get her out in time, which was what caused her CP.”
Kim assured Heather that everyone wonders about her mental capabilities and told her, “Mentally I’m all here!”
Many have noticed the fun that Kim and Heather have together during lunch and the special friendship they have developed. “We are usually the loudest in the cafeteria,” Heather said, “and we just talk and laugh.”
She added, “A lot of people don’t understand how I can have a conversation with her. How she pronounces words is very slurred. Sometimes I have her spell words out.”
And Heather has learned what some of Kim’s vocalizations mean: “A certain slur means yes and another one means ‘I love you’ — we have gotten into the habit of telling each other that.” Heather said she and Kim have had many conversations about spiritual things, like salvation and missions, and they also enjoy talking about their boyfriends.
Amy Givens is Heather’s twin sister who also serves on Kim’s Impact Team. Kim and Amy first met when Heather started feeding Kim. Amy had been joining them for lunch and Kim would laugh at the interactions between Amy and Heather poking fun at each other.
Soon Kim requested that Amy be put on the Impact Team as well. “They put me on to help out on Fridays, and I didn’t even know!” Amy said. The first time Amy took Kim to class she admitted she was quite nervous.
“I didn’t know how to pick her up and take her out of her wheelchair,” Amy said. “She has a rug in each class, and she likes to be in the front toward the side. I unbuckle her seat belt and put my arms under her arms to lift her out. Then I get her books out of her backpack and lay out her paper and pens.
“And her cell phone,” Amy added with a giggle.
Kim, Amy and Heather have many special memories, like the times Amy or Heather have dropped food in Kim’s lap when helping her with a meal or when Heather sits on Kim’s lap and rides around school with her in her wheelchair. But one special time was the night Amy and Heather included Kim among their friends at their birthday celebration.
“To be completely honest, we hesitated whether we should take Kim because having her along would limit what we could do,” Heather said. “We wanted to either ice skate or roller skate, and we were going out to eat.”
Amy broke the indecision, saying, “It isn’t even a question. She probably hasn’t been out like this a lot. We’re taking her.”
Though they were disturbed by some of the reactions they got — including testiness from a roller rink clerk — the group had a special night out eating Thai food and playing games together in Amy and Heather’s dorm room.
Kim, at the end of her freshman year of college, counts the greatest victories in her life so far as her high school graduation, being accepted at North Greenville University, being more independent, finishing her first year of college and starting to plan her wedding.
She is inspired by the people who have been in her life the longest and have always accepted her just as she is — her parents, her sister Crystal and her boyfriend David whom she has known since she was a little girl. She likes spending time with her family and friends and has enjoyed playing baseball on the Miracle League. Her picture has been used on Miracle League billboards in two states, her mom, Suzette, noted.
Kim confesses to being discouraged at least once a day when she can’t do something physically or when she can’t communicate well. “I’m not sure how I combat it [discouragement]. I just know it’s alright to need help and my family and friends don’t mind helping.”
To encourage others with disabilities similar to hers, Kim said, “Just because you’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you are different. Be yourself no matter what life throws at you. Follow your heart and make your dreams come true!”
Regarding her own dream for a special needs daycare, she noted that in Greenville County there are more than 300 children who could benefit. She envisions a huge, open floor plan with bright and cheerful décor. “It will be completely barrier-free and have all the equipment for all the various types of needs…. This is just my plan; I know God’s plan is much bigger.”