Central Heights accident victim determined to walk again
It all happened so fast, but Debbie Helsloot can look back from her hospital bed and see how God had strengthened her faith for a time like this. She believes she will walk again.
The 42-year-old mother of three remains in Vancouver General Hospital’s spinal unit, recovering from injuries suffered when the floor gave way at the Starfield concert in Abbotsford’s Central Heights Church April 25. Twice – when she was in intensive care and then after surgery on two severed vertebrae – doctors warned Stephan Helsloot that his wife could be quadraplegic and never walk again. That devastating prognosis was incorrect.
Debbie’s progress amazes many of her medical caregivers. Feeling has returned to limbs and important parts of her body. Movement has returned to hands, leg, and feet. Debbie still has weakness on her right side, but declares, “I am determined I’m going to walk out of this hospital.”
“I am stubborn,” she says, “and I have a high faith. I could sit here and be bitter, but I’m not. I know God is going to use this. I have an ingrained faith. It’s like the air I breathe.”
Debbie has lived through other bad patches in her life. There was a 14-month period when both her father and brother died, and she was “really mad at God for a while.” But, two years ago, she went to a youth conference as a volunteer chaperone. There, she says, “God touched me and got me to let go of all that anger.”
Prayer and e-support
A member of Promontory Community Church in Chilliwack, Debbie has become a sort of poster girl for the Central Heights collapse. She was the most seriously hurt in the event and has been blessed by hundreds of people who pray for her and send messages of encouragement. Her progress is chronicled on Promonotory’s website (www.mypcc.ca). She was the subject of a God-honouring story on the CTV network.
Debbie treasures two emails from quadriplegic author-artist Joni Eareckson Tada, as well as emails from all over Canada, the United States, Holland, and even South Africa.
The worst part of her lengthy hospital stay, she says, is her absence from her three children, Melissa, 14, Luke, 12, and Kyle, 9. One of her lowest points was when Kyle was sick and couldn’t go to school. “I so wanted to be there,” she says. “Not being with my kids kills me.” Stephan visits daily, and she is now well enough to leave hospital on occasional outings. She has many visitors, including pastors and members of both Promontory and Central Heights churches.
“And there is an army helping us,” says Debbie. “It’s amazing.” Many people from her church, friends, neighbours, and even strangers have pitched in to help. The family purchased a house just before Debbie’s injury, but the move is being handled by “the army,” including painting, moving, and cleanup of the old place. Neighbours have been wonderful with child care. Stephan’s employer has been a huge support, even supplying a truck for the move.
Facing a long road
Debbie now faces a long road to regain use of her limbs, balance, and other faculties most people take for granted. She knows the toughest part will come soon, when she moves from Vancouver General to GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, often dubbed “boot camp.” She knows she will need much prayer just to persevere on the daily regimen of physiotherapy, occupational training, and exercise. It may take all summer, but she doesn’t consider herself a paraplegic. “There are a lot of signs I’ll walk again,” she says.
Promontory pastor Shawn Vandop says Debbie is “definitely in healing mode.” Central Heights pastor Chris Douglas says Debbie is “an amazing lady. She is full of faith – alive – awake – funny!” He can see God working in her life, even in the midst of recovery from her injuries.
While Debbie can see God’s hand in her life, she says, “Why is God healing me? I still don’t know the answer to that question.” In the same breath, she speaks of how awesome it is to be a testimony.
— Barrie McMaster
* In mid-June, Debbie was able to stand and take her first steps.