No matter how many times I witness an act of kindness, I am no less amazed by its power to rejuvenate a human soul. I just witnessed such an act and I want to share it with you.
The past few months have been very tough months for my oldest daughter. Her daughter (my granddaughter) Susannah has a rare and very aggressive strain of Cystic Fibrosis. In addition to that, she has a secondary disease that prevents her body from fighting infections. The past several years of her young life (8 years old) have been a constant battle of medications and treatments.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anyone receive treatments for CF, but let me tell you that once you’ve seen it, you won’t forget it—ever. She takes many oral medications to help to digest her food and (hopefully) allow her to absorb a few precious calories and nutrition from the food she eats. In addition, she has to do nebulizer treatments (each containing 2 to 3 medications) from 2 to 8 times daily, depending upon the severity of her lungs at any given time. Then, there is the vest. The vest is a modern day miracle in that it pounds the mucus loose inside of her lungs giving her a little more air to breathe in, however, it resembles a torture device when you see it in action. The first time I sat with her while she did the vest, I cried.
And last of all, there is her weekly ‘infusion’ that treats her blood deficiency disease. Most of us would call it a blood transfusion because that is what the process looks like. Once a week, little Susi gets hooked up to a needle, a tube, and a bag of some miracle prescription for about an hour and a half. She will have to do this every week for the rest of her life.
In addition to all of these things, when she gets pneumonia, she often has to get a PICC line surgically installed to deliver the antibiotics through a tube directly to her heart because she has little ability to recover from infections.
These are a lot of daily horrors for an eight year old girl to endure, but endure them she does. When everyone else gets to play, she has to do treatments. Each neb is 20 minutes, each vest is 20 minutes, each daily PICC medication is an hour. Those are a lot of pieces of time for a little girl to give up.
This girl has more spirit and drive than a dozen healthy kids her age. She has never let any of these things get her down and even when she has double pneumonia, sinus infections, and bronchitis all at the same time, she is still a little dynamo of enthusiasm and positivity. You want to see a ‘can do’ attitude? You should meet Susannah. She learned it from her mommy.
Being involved in sports is very good therapy for her lungs, but we discovered years ago that it is difficult for her to be involved in a team sport because she misses so many practices due to endless doctors appointments, treatments, and sometimes hospitalizations. So, a couple of years ago, we decided to try her out with an individual sport: horseback riding. Her doctor said the pounding motion of riding a horse would be excellent therapy for her lungs. We weren’t sure how it would go—she is a tiny snippet of a person, as children with CF often are because they don’t absorb nutrition easily—but from day one, it was love at first sight. Susannah fell in love with a horse at the stable named Dusty, and also with her riding teacher. She flourished in her lessons and spent as much time at the farm as possible. She dreamed of competing but with all of the financial ramifications of CF therapy, it was not something her family could afford.
The owner of the farm heard Susannah’s story and offered to allow her to go along and compete when her other riders were going. Can you imagine such generosity? She didn’t charge her to rent the horse, she didn’t charge her to rent the trailer, she didn’t charge her for the time. And to top it all off, she often went to watch Susannah ride. Susannah might be small, but she is mighty. She competed in the 12 and under category as a 7 year old and always took home ribbons. She has a whole wall full of ribbons, ranging from 1st to 6th place.
Then, in an even more extreme act of kindness, the owner allowed Susannah to help out at the farm over the summer. These two amazing women, teacher and owner, let her believe they needed her at the farm so that she would be able to see the horse she so loved for free on a regular basis.
Everything was going along perfectly—until her riding teacher left the farm. As often happens in grown up life, she had to take a job that was better for her future. Susannah was devastated because she loved her teacher very much. Until things could get figured out, my daughter signed Susannah up for swim team, which she had dabbled in over the summer. Although swim team occupied a lot of her time, she performed well, and started gathering ribbons from competitions; however, her heart remained at the farm with Dusty. But still, it was good interim exercise for her lungs until a regular teacher could be arranged.
Then, for the first time since her diagnosis, Susannah just seemed kind of sad. And we don’t know if it is coincidence or if the human heart has that much control over the human health, but she began to get sicker. Over the course of two months, she just kept getting sicker, until she was up to four vests a day and six nebulizers a day and repeated rounds of antibiotics. When none of these things helped, she had to get a PICC line surgically installed and then couldn’t swim either. This is when all of this really hit home, with both Susannah and with my daughter, her mommy. It is one thing to wage war with the disease that tries to kill your daughter’s lungs. It is an entirely different thing to see Susannah wavering in the fight.
Both of these brave, resilient girls were floundering. In a moment of desperation, my daughter asked the owner of the farm if she could lease Dusty, knowing their family could not afford it but also knowing that her daughter’s health required it. The doctor was talking about hospitalization. The owner, this wonderful woman, called my daughter in and compassionately worked out a financial agreement that would allow Susannah to be able to ride whenever she wanted to; she even offered to ride with Susi if she had nobody else.
That conversation was a turning point. Susannah is back to riding often. She just got her PICC line out and is back to swim team as well. You wonder, could a horse really have this much impact on one child’s life? If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would’ve previously said, “I doubt it.” But in her nebulous world of disease, medication, and endless treatments; maybe Dusty is the one solid ray of hope that she holds onto—something tangible that is good and good for her too.
Without the generosity of the owner of this farm, Susannah would not be riding and recovering as she is. Good, truly kind people like this do not cross your path every day. How beautiful is the soul of the woman who loves the child who is not her own? May she be repaid equally in kindness one day–this is my hearts wish for her.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa