My son Damian, who will turn 18 this year, recently expressed an interest in martial arts. Your first thought might be, “What’s the big deal?” Well, if you knew the odds that my son has had to go up against you would realize just what a big deal it really is.
I will go back to when my son was 2. At that tender age, he cut his forehead open due to jumping on the bed. When I say that he cut his forehead open, I mean you could see cartilage. If it wouldn’t have been for my wonderful blessing of a daughter who (only being 6 years old at the time) calmly got me towels and called my sister, I would not have been able to keep it together. (I did fall apart, but it could have been worse.) What was amazing to me was that my son stopped crying right away. Even at that age he was already demonstrating his resolve. During the rest of his years I was forced to grow accustomed to more bumps, bruises, and stitches, like the time when he fell at school and cut his chin open.
When Damian was 5 years old I enjoyed helping him with his Kindergarten homework and activities. He learned how to read when he was 4, and was already a fairly good speller. The only thing that concerned me was his constant daydreaming. I would often have to repeat things and re-direct him. I was also concerned about the way he would pronounce certain letters. Whenever he would get frustrated he would quit and say, “I can’t.” I would always tell him, “Repeat after me – I can and I will!” I made him repeat it enough of times that he began to automatically correct himself whenever he’d start to utter, “I can’t.”
Unbeknownst to me at the time was that he was suffering from partial hearing loss due to fluid build-up in his ears. He had to have his tonsils and adenoids removed. He never once complained. If anything, he loved the fact that he could eat all of the ice cream he wanted for a whole week! I no longer had to repeat things to him and his speech greatly improved. However, his daydreaming only got worse.
When it was time for his next physical I decided I would mention this to his pediatrician. As luck would have it he did his usual stare off into space. I quickly pointed it out to his doctor who then turned around, looked at me, and said, “I think your son is having an absence seizure, a form of epilepsy.”
Epilepsy? My 5-year-old son? Not possible! After all, the only other person I had ever seen with epileptic attack was my father, and he would fall and foam at the mouth. Unfortunately, the epilepsy diagnosis was confirmed after further testing. Now he would have to be subjected to a medication regiment. Once again, he never complained. I was actually impressed at how quickly he learned how to swallow his pills. Epilepsy never really slowed Damian down. The medications worked very well at keeping the seizures at bay. Even when he did get one he would just stare for a few seconds.
In between 5 & 9 years old Damian was also diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. In addition, a learning disability would surface the following year. Again, this did not keep my son down. God blessed him with a great memory. He had no problem memorizing multiplication and division tables. He was two grade levels above in spelling, and was a very good reader. What was even more remarkable was that he read fluently in both English and Spanish. As for his ADHD, I told myself that I would simply have to learn to adapt my reactions to his conduct. I would rely on patience and behavioral interventions rather than subject him to even more medication. Never once did my son complain about feeling inferior or different. He always tried hard and wore a smile.
The summer of Damian’s 10th birthday it finally felt like everything was under control. We had just finished building our dream home outside of the city. Now he and his sister would have enough yard space in which to play and run around. They could invite their friends over and make childhood memories. Regrettably, one of those memories would prove to be a very painful one for all of us, especially for my son.
An innocent game of baseball turned into a life-changing moment. My ex-husband and I were returning from the store when my daughter ran over to the car exclaiming, “Mom, Damian’s had an accident!” The rest of what came out of her mouth still penetrates me as sharply as it did that day. We had only been in our newly built home for a week. The evidence of construction was still visible all around the development, including unprotected rebars (steel rods used to reinforce concrete.) One of those rebars punctured my son’s right eye when he bent down to pick up a ball.
Everything surrounding this incident seemed so surreal. I had no idea what to expect when I entered the house. There lay my son, holding a paper towel over his eye as calm as could be. He wasn’t crying, he wasn’t complaining. I immediately thought “Whew! It doesn’t seem to be as bad as I thought.” That was until I took the paper towel off. His eye did not resemble an eye. I wanted to fall to my knees, but his calm demeanor gave me strength. Of course, I also knew all along that God was undoubtedly behind both of our strength.
My son bravely walked to the car, holding on to the paper towel over his eye. We took him to the local hospital hoping they would patch him up and send him home. The emergency room doctor took one look at him and said, “We can’t help him here. He needs to go to Hershey Med.” (Penn State Hershey Medical Center has been recognized as one of the best hospitals in the nation.) The seriousness of the situation quickly began to sink in. The specialist at Hershey told us that it was “the worst eye injury” he had ever seen. We were told that my son would most likely lose his eye and needed to get an artificial implant. How on earth do you relay this news to a child?
Emergency surgery was done to close the gap in his eye. He had lost his lens, all of the fluid in his eye (vitreous humour), and severely damaged his iris and cornea. Miraculously, he did not lose his eye. He was even able to see colors and shadows! Another surgery was performed in order to improve the outward appearance of the eye. This was bittersweet due to the fact that the cornea transplanted onto my son’s eye came from an 18-year-old boy who had died in a car accident in Iowa.
Damian’s resiliency shone through once again. His main concern while recuperating in the hospital? Whether or not they would allow him to play video games! I also recall the time several weeks later when I reminded him of his least favorite chore – throwing out the garbage. His response? “Mooomm, you know the doctor said I can’t put pressure on my eye!” My comeback? “You don’t use your eyes to pick up the trash bag, you use your hands.” We both laughed, but he still had to do his chore. You see, I refused to let my son’s physical handicap become an emotional one.
My son ultimately lost all sight in his right eye. He lacks depth perception, spatial orientation, and eye-hand coordination. I think somebody forgot to tell him. Haha! Why do I say that? Well, one time I decided to close one eye and try to go about my business. I was so uncoordinated. Not too long after his injury we were outside playing football. I threw the ball with one eye closed. While I thought I had thrown the ball straight ahead, I had actually thrown it to the opposite side of my field of vision! Damian, on the other hand, always threw it completely straight.
Although 8 years have passed since that day, we still deal with it daily. He has to use drops in that eye for the rest of his life. Two years ago it began to bleed internally for no known reason. The pressure in his eye dropped and there was talk again about him needing to get an artificial eye. This time around he was told of the impending result. Damian didn’t really talk about it, but he didn’t complain either. Thankfully the pressure has been brought back to normal through the use of drops (of course I know that it’s really through the hand of God.) Currently, Damian is doing well…almost.
As he approaches 18, he will be undergoing major chest surgery. He needs to have a steel rod inserted in his sternum. When he entered his teens his breastbone began to grow inward, causing a deep dent in his chest. Not only does it have a sunken appearance, but also leaves little room for his heart and lungs. It could potentially cause his heart to shift and become displaced.
We have been warned. While complications are typically minimum, the pain following the surgery is not. At first Damian did not want to go through with the surgery. I told him that he would be ok because they would give him sufficient pain medication. His response to that? “Oh, I’m not worried about the pain. I just don’t want that metal thing inside me.” Ha! I should have known that he would not be afraid of the pain.
Writing this prompted me to look up the meaning of the name Damian. I was not in the least bit surprised at what I found: Damian: Greek origin. Means “to conquer, master, overcome, tame.” Of course!
As I sit here proudly watching him perform his karate moves in class, smiling and throwing kicks and punches into the air, I can almost sense what is going through his mind…
“I CAN...& I WILL!”
PS = Stay tuned for next week's blog where I will be writing about the other inspiration in my life...my sweet daughter Jasmine.