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Faith in Christ enables 14-year-old to endure agonizing brain syndrome

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–There have been many nights when Linda Vaughan has knelt by the bed of her 14-year-old daughter, Lindsey, and gently massaged her child’s throbbing head. Painkillers made by man do not ease Lindsey’s suffering. Mom’s hands made by God do.
Linda gazes into her face and recalls how both of them nearly died the day Lindsey was born — only 26 weeks after conception. She remembers Lindsey weighed only two pounds, 14 ounces. She relives the 39 surgeries performed on her daughter, including the 37th shunt which surgeons recently implanted in her pretty head to ensure the proper flow of cerebral fluid to and from her brain.
But more importantly, she takes comfort in knowing that Lindsey, shunts and all, has given her life to the Lord Jesus.
“Jesus has always been there for me,” Lindsey said. “I pray to him and thank him for letting me feel good — if but for just one day. I thank him for just letting me be here and saving my soul.
“And even though I am in pain, I pray that he will heal me someday,” she said, adding she knows the day is coming when Jesus will return to give her a new, perfect body.
But for now, Lindsey suffers from slit ventricle syndrome (SVS), a condition that occurs at birth and one which infants rarely overcome. Researchers continue to search for solutions to SVS, a malady that causes the ventricles carrying cerebral fluid to and from the brain to collapse. Many newborns do not survive, while those who do — like Lindsey — face the prospect of having shunts, or pumps, operating in their heads for the rest of their lives.
A shunt and tubing are usually hidden under the person’s skin so not to affect personal appearance. If a shunt operates properly, the person lives a near-normal life with occasional headaches. If the shunt malfunctions, and they often do, the headaches become so severe that often only morphine can relieve the pain. If uncorrected, it could result in death.
For Lindsey, who received Jesus as Lord and Savior while at a youth retreat in 1995, the number 37 has significance. Thirty-seven is the number times doctors have performed surgery on her for malfunctioning shunts. And 37 times her life has been spared.
“God has answered my prayers every time I’ve had surgery. I know he answered them because I didn’t die,” she said. “Jesus is everything to me. If it were not for him I could have developed cerebral palsy or even died.”
By all accounts, Lindsey should have died on at least two occasions.
Lindsey and her mother nearly bled to death in the delivery room. When Lindsey’s father, John, arrived at the hospital, a nurse asked him if he knew a pastor or priest.
“We had just moved to Louisville [Ky.] and we did not know many people,” John said. “Here I am standing in a strange hospital, they are telling me my wife is dying and my child has been taken to another hospital. I had to lean on God.”
Linda’s condition stabilized, but the situation with Lindsey was grave. Seven days after her birth, doctors successfully closed a ruptured vessel near Lindsey’s heart. Six days later, her head began to swell as fluid collected around her brain. Physicians attached a shunt to a tube, inserting them in Lindsey’s brain cavity to drain the fluid. They placed the tube in her stomach so the drained fluid could be absorbed into her system. Three months later, the Vaughans took Lindsey home.
When Lindsey was 4 years old, another shunt malfunctioned. Following surgery to replace the defective shunt, infection set in, spreading throughout her body.
“The doctors told my parents it was over,” Lindsey said.
Then the new shunt malfunctioned. Doctors were unable to insert another because of the infection and severe swelling in Lindsey’s head. In an attempt to save her life, doctors drilled a hole in the top of her head. They placed an external shunt with a tube extending from the shunt to a bag that collected the excessive fluid that was drowning her brain.
“We just prayed, ‘God, she is in your hands,'” Linda recalled. “Everybody we knew was praying. We’ve experienced the power of prayer.”
Two months later, Lindsey was free of infection. Surgeons inserted a new internal shunt and Lindsey returned home. She resumed a near-normal life, even though headaches persisted and new shunt implants continued to be a frequent part of her life. Despite the adversity, Lindsey, rather remarkably, has been attending school (where she has made mostly and As and Bs) and even playing softball and basketball.
“You’ve never seen a child with a bigger heart,” says her father. “She really fights to not let her problem affect her life.”
In the summer of 1996, the Vaughans joined the youth of First Baptist Church of Middletown, Ky., (where they have been longtime members) on a mission trip to Tampa, Fla. Lindsey was painting underneath a picnic table when she bumped her head, causing the shunt to malfunction. Since then, she has had 15 of the shunts implanted in her head. The latest, inserted April 10, is a state-of-the-art magnetic, programmable shunt that required special Federal Drug Administration approval before surgeons could insert it (the FDA has now approved the magnetic shunt for general use). Surgeons say Lindsey is the first patient to receive the magnetic shunt outside the northeast United States. Only about 50 are in use.
“I think it [SVS] has made me more aware of God,” Lindsey said. “I am at peace. I know I’m going to heaven.”
To John, when he looks at Lindsey, he sees God being glorified.
“I believe God gave us this situation to make us better witnesses for him,” he said. “We have tried to sow a lot of seed in hospital emergency rooms. Lindsey’s sickness has shown us that not everything in life is perfect. Lindsey knows God has put her here for a reason and God has blessed her — and us.”
Lindsey’s faith has inspired more than just her immediate family. She has been an inspiration to the members of First Baptist Middletown, said pastor Danny Haynes.
“I believe her faith is so strong, that either the Lord will heal her or that she will accept the fact that God’s grace will be sufficient amidst her suffering. We can’t conjure up that kind of strength. Only the Lord can do that.”
Lindsey’s magnetic shunt needed adjusting this fall. Her headaches became so severe that she started missing classes at Louisville’s Christian Academy, where she is a freshman. Linda took a day off from work to take her to the hospital where doctors tried to make the necessary adjustments. Lindsey pleaded with them to do all they could to relieve her pain.
“I just don’t want to hurt anymore,” she said as the tears began to flow down her cheeks.
“Lindsey,” said one of the doctors, “you should not even be alive.”
With those words the tears stopped. Then in typical fashion, Lindsey turned to her mother and apologized for “messing up” her day.
“I can’t imagine my life without Lindsey,” Linda said. “The doctors told us that Lindsey would likely have cerebral palsy. But that did not happen and it is a testimony to what God can do.”

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  • Don Hinkle