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Single mom & son buoyed by their church

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–To Sandra Flaherty, her church has always felt like family. But after members rallied to help when a rare disease struck her son, she feels like she has seen God in action.

Among the numerous tasks members of Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church handled this summer were mowing her yard, trimming her bushes, power washing her deck, installing light fixtures and stocking her refrigerator.

They also bought gasoline and food cards and offered other financial assistance.

“I thought, ‘This is the way God works,'” said Flaherty, a member of the Louisville-area for 10 years. “This is how He uses people to solve problems. My church family has gone above and beyond the norm.”

A single mother of three boys, Flaherty’s ordeal started last March when she took 12-year-old Michael to a Louisville hospital for treatment of strep throat and a stomach virus.

She said the nurse who administered a penicillin shot for strep throat put it in the wrong place and nicked a vein, causing a blood clot to lie on the sciatic nerve.

That triggered a central nervous system condition known as CPRS (complex regional pain syndrome), which short-circuits the nervous system and causes it to misfire.

As a result, the brain perceives every sensation as severe pain, Flaherty said.

Following intense pain the night of the shot, Michael was unable to walk the next morning. He walked with a limp for a week and complained of a burning leg and a knot at the injection site.

The following week a pediatrician told him the discomfort would clear up on its own. It didn’t.

Symptoms such as sharp, hot pains in his leg, swelling in his foot and discoloration of the skin led to the use of crutches, then a walker and in May confinement to a wheelchair. As the pain intensified, Michael would spend hours a day screaming.

What hurt worse was the reaction of various doctors, Flaherty said.

“Many of them told him there was nothing wrong with him and that he was ‘making it up,'” she recalled. “That only traumatized Michael and made the whole situation much worse.”

Unable to find help locally, Flaherty did extensive Internet research, trying to learn more about her son’s ailment. One night around 1 a.m., she said, “God, I don’t know what else to do.”

Just then, a pop-up ad appeared on her screen. When she closed out the ad, she found herself looking at the site of a special children’s clinic at a Boston hospital that opened last year.

She called the next morning, telling them she didn’t have a doctor’s reference since she had been unable to find any help for her son. Though the clinic was full, the hospital agreed to see Michael for an evaluation on May 13.

Then God intervened again. Before the trip to Boston, Flaherty took Michael to see a specialist. He wound up being examined by the doctor’s partner, who recognized CRPS.

“I thought, ‘How cool of God to send in a different doctor,'” she said. “When we flew to Boston it was on a private medical jet owned by the hospital here. I wouldn’t have even known to ask for that, but the specialist became an advocate. She also made multiple calls to Boston.”

Michael was admitted to the hospital on May 24, two weeks before space opened in the clinic. After staying in a special parents’ room for the first 18 days, Flaherty needed a vehicle and a place to live.

Instead of renting a vehicle, Flaherty received the use of a van for free from a single mother at the Boston church a Hunsinger Lane member formerly attended.

And a couple from a Methodist church in a suburb offered the use of their home for a month.

While in Massachusetts, Flaherty said, she felt like she was along for a ride arranged by the Lord.

“Michael’s doctor was one of the leading specialists on CRPS in the country,” she said. “He does seminars, has written articles and parts of books. God did all that; I didn’t. All I did was try to take care of my child.”

Back in Louisville, meanwhile, God was moving hearts at her church.

After learning about Flaherty — who works as a baby photographer at Baptist Hospital East — one member gave Hunsinger Lane senior pastor Charlie Davis a check for $2,000, insisting his gift remain anonymous.

Other financial help came from a special fund initiated last February, where members put spare change into plates at the end of Sunday’s service, which raises up to $300 a week.

“We talk a lot in church about finding ways to express our Christian faith and what we’re learning, so this created ways to do that,” Davis said.

Paul Bruce, who teaches the Sunday School class that Flaherty attends, called the assistance one of the most meaningful activities he’s been involved in over the past eight years of teaching.

“We really felt needed,” Bruce said. “The need was way bigger than us. You know the Lord would have to do that, but we could help. That’s how each one of us felt.”

After a painful first week in which Michael gradually learned to wiggle a toe, followed by a foot and an ankle, he gradually improved. By the time they returned home the second week of July, he could walk, run and do back flips on a trampoline.

Flaherty’s battles aren’t over. She has consulted an attorney after a dispute with the hospital over responsibility for the misguided injection. And in August, her paternal grandfather and a friend from the church died.

Even so, Flaherty said, “I want to thank God. We want everyone to know who helped us how appreciative we are. Every little thing that Michael can do now — he’s like a kid in a candy store. He says, ‘I don’t know how God will use this, but He will.'”
Ken Walker is a freelance writer based in Huntington, W.Va. This article first appeared in the Western Recorder (www.westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

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  • Ken Walker