Anthony Flack, a Year 10 student at O’Loughlin Catholic College in Casuarina, NT, remembers one of the most important times of his life, and how family and faith helped him through it.
I am a surviving twin. My brother and I were born at 25 weeks and weighing 690 grams each. (We decided that we were far too awesome to stay inside mum’s stomach for nine months).
I suffered a brain bleed at three days old, which caused damage to the part of my brain that controls my gross motor function. My brother also had a more severe brain bleed, and passed away after three weeks. My parents tell me I almost died three times (both mum and dad blame me for their grey hair who knows why?), before finally coming home for the first time at four months old.
As a result of these early struggles, I have cerebral palsy (CP). It mainly affects my legs but it’s everywhere, making both gross motor and fine motor function very difficult. When I fall, I fall like a tree – one straight line, no bending for me.
Children with CP often require surgery or they end up with their body all twisted and doubled over. It used to be necessary every couple of years but with the discovery of Botox most CP sufferers can delay surgery. But when the Botox is no longer effective surgery becomes inevitable.
In June 2012, just before I turned twelve, I had surgery. Before the surgery, the doctors were unsure if I would need just muscle work or if I would also require ‘boney’ surgery. My thigh bones have a slight twist in them from the CP and it could result in my hips being pulled out of their sockets. When I went into the surgery they were still hesitating, but once they had a good look at my bones they decided it was okay. I think that was God answering prayers because the muscle surgery was painful enough without having my bones broken and plated back together!
When I woke up from the anaesthetics both my lower legs were in plaster casts and over the casts I had zimmer splints (full padded leg wraps that stop your knees from bending). They were un comfortable. It’s a good thing we were in Adelaide during winter or I would have died from heat exhaustion.
The first week in hospital was awful, so much pain and so little painkillers. But again, God came through for me in the form of my Dad. He kept track of what I could have and when, he had such good detailed conversations with the doctors doing their rounds that he could tell the nurses to do their job properly. The nurses were so scared that I would get addicted to the pain medication that they often would try not to give it to me. Dad ended up having the doctors talk to the nurses about how they were preventing my healing by keeping me in so much pain.
My mum says it was a blessing that they were dealing with dad because he lectures in alcohol and drugs at uni and could talk the jargon. Also, he was so cool, calm and collected that they couldn’t ignore him. Luckily, I was able to escape the ward and was moved to the Ronald McDonald House to continue my recovery, which took another six weeks. Ronny Mac was awesome. Again, God came through because usually they don’t let rehab patients stay there. Normally it’s for kids with cancer, but they had space and I couldn’t go home with my legs still in casts and zimmers, so they made a special exception for me.
After six weeks, the cast came off and I entered the next phase of rehab, learning how to walk again. During surgery, they moved around my tendons and cut up hamstrings and calves in a zigzag. So, my brain had to work out new ways to make my legs move. Mum and Dad switched roles and now I had the psycho physio fanatic mum making me work hard every day. During rehab, it was extremely hard to walk. Previously I couldn’t walk on my heels for the ‘heel-toe’ exercise. Because of this, my heels were tender and sensitive, the physios said they had baby skin on them, having never been used before. Now I could put my foot down like everyone else I needed to toughen the heel up. You know physio’s have their own counting system and time seems to go real slow. I never knew holding a stretch for 10 secs could take sooo long and sometimes they repeat numbers so you have to do more repeats.
During this time, I also used a wheelchair, because when I was not learning how to walk again I was back in the zimmer splints. When in my wheel-chair I had a fear of it tipping backwards as I was wearing my zimmer splints and had to keep my legs elevated and straight. Sleeping in my zimmer splints was difficult because it was hard to fall asleep with your legs wrapped up and you couldn’t roll over or anything.
My dad helped me cope a lot throughout this process. He was always there for me and would move me to be showered and into the living room to recover from the physio sessions by playing Xbox and watching TV with me. I think God has helped me with the timing and healing. I was supposed to be in hospital for two weeks however I was out in just one! I was in casts for six weeks and then rehab for six weeks so it w as 13 weeks from start to finish.
I am very grateful for how my surgery turned out. Prior to surgery I could not maintain my balance and was unable to keep my feet flat. Whether the class was standing or walking, I really stood out as being different. Now it takes a little while before people realises something’s wrong with my legs.
I have realized that despite my CP and ASD God still has a plan for me, that he worked it out before my birth and will work around anything that gets in the way (including myself) and use me for good, to inspire others. Sure I might go on a wild goose chase but I’ll get there eventually. God won’t give up on me.
Photo courtesy of the Flack family