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However, Mother’s Day takes on an entirely new meaning when you consider the story of one local mom. While most of us are thankful for our mothers and what they have done for us, Tracy credits her children with actually saving her life.
As a single mom Tracy has adopted nine children, all born with physical handicaps and unwanted by the birth families or born to unfit parents. She adopted her first child at a time in her life when she relied on a wheelchair, ate through a feeding tube, and breathed through a tracheotomy.
Tracy began college life as a normal young woman. She started as a pre-med student but soon left school to play professional soccer. After a few years, she decided to return to college, this time pursuing a degree in recreational therapy. She began falling frequently, having symptoms of weakness and feeling unusually fatigued.
As her condition worsened, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her condition deteriorated, and her diagnosis was changed from MS to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She wasn’t told that she had ALS, but merely thought it odd when she began receiving multiple visits from old friends and the facility’s chaplain.
At this point, her doctor strongly urged her to authorize the use of life support in the event that she should need it. While initially she was opposed to being on life support, she came to accept that she could indeed live her life that way if she had to, her inspiration being actor Christopher Reeve. Still not fully comprehending how sick she was, she awoke one night to a flurry of activity in her room. She had stopped breathing in her sleep. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support.
Within a few months, Tracy started to show improvement, which no one expected, as ALS patients generally only deteriorate. After months of living in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, Tracy returned home with the ventilator, a feeding tube and a wheelchair. At the time, there was no in-home care assistance for adults on ventilators, but her mother wrote to then President Clinton and received three months of funding for Tracy.
However, during that time, Tracy’s father died suddenly of a massive heart attack, which disrupted their lives to the point that they were unable to take advantage of the assistance. Three weeks prior to her father’s death, Tracy’s best friend, Michael, had also died unexpectedly.
Tracy was always an independent sort, unshrinking in the face of challenge. While she was in the rehabilitation center, she would take her motorized wheelchair out for a spin around the neighborhood when she felt like getting some fresh air. She would load herself and her equipment into her accessible van and go driving. While she was recuperating at her apartment, she bought an old house in Bethlehem and renovated it.
One evening, she saw an ad in the newspaper by the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN,) seeking adoptive parents for children with special needs. Tracy believed that she was well suited to raise a physically handicapped child, as she could relate to the child through her own experience. She felt it was God’s plan for her to answer the ad -- to love and care for children who had physical problems, similar to her own.
By now, Tracy’s condition had improved significantly. Her diagnosis was reversed and re-established as MS. She was disconnected from the ventilator and given a tracheotomy. Unable to talk, she used a TTY (text telephone) to answer the ad from SWAN. “I believed that if this was truly from God, it could happen,” she reflected during a recent interview.
Because of Tracy’s condition, she faced many challenges with the adoption process. She was told during an adoption approval interview that she would never be allowed to adopt an infant because she had a tracheotomy and could not speak. This news prompted her to seek a second opinion from a different pulmonologist, who gave her a new trach with a speaking valve. Because she got on well with the valve, doctors decided that she could live without the trach. At this point, she weighed 69 pounds.
After the trach was removed, she was not only able to talk but also to eat more and get better nutrition. She began to gain weight and strength and was able to function more normally. Tracy credits adopting the children with gaining her strength back and recovering. “The children gave me a reason to get better, and if it hadn’t been for the adoption requirements, I may never have gotten the trach removed,” she explained.
She was turned down for the first child she applied for. She was devastated; but throughout her life, Tracy had sought God’s will for every decision she made. One day, discouraged, she said to God, “Maybe this [attempt to adopt a child] is from me, not from you. I need some way to know.”
When she returned home the following day after an outing with her mother, she had received multiple messages from her social worker about a baby boy who needed a home. She was asked to return the call before 5:00 pm, but it was well after 5:00 when she called back, and she was fearful that she was too late. The social worker said, “Don’t worry. I knew you would take him so I told them yes for you.”
Tracy’s inspiring story will continue in next month’s (July 2016) issue.