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Walking by Faith: The Story of Andrew DeVries

Athletics has always been the most important thing in my life. In fact, at fifty-five, six-foot-six, I had just tried out for the Michigan senior men’s Olympic volleyball team, and there was a good chance I would. arrived.

Then tragedy struck. In a motorcycle accident, I broke my left leg. The doctors ordered an amputation. Before the operation, as I lay in the hospital bed and chatted with my family and friends about what life would be like without a leg, a young medical assistant named Sarah Scholl said, “Andy, at what kind of golf balls do you play?”

It was a silly question, but I told him “Titleist Pro V1”. The next morning, a 12-pack of Titleist Pro V1 golf balls was by my bed. Sarah’s gift gave me a glimmer of hope.

When I woke up after the operation, I was surprised to look down and see two legs and ten toes. Fortunately, the doctors had decided that my leg had enough circulation to try to save it. But months of rehabilitation awaited them. During a later operation, I almost died on the table.

When it was time to move to a rehabilitation hospital, Sarah took me to the ambulance. “I have a favor to ask of you,” she said. “My dad died a while ago. When I get married, I want you to walk me down the aisle.”

“Sarah, I’m unlikely to walk anywhere. Besides, you don’t even have a boyfriend.”

“One day I will,” she said.

hope and love

At the rehabilitation hospital, where I had pretty much come to terms with living the rest of my life in a wheelchair, I got a call from John Wilder, my volleyball coach. “Congratulations, Andy, you made the team! You’re playing in the Senior Olympics.”

I told him about my accident and waited for him to tell me that he would miss having me on the team. But Wilder shocked me: “You’re better. I’ll play you if you can just stand up.”

His words ignited a spark. I went to rehab with a vengeance. Seven months later, I was able to make it to the Senior Olympics. Although I could barely stand, John kept his word: he got me into it.

When it was my turn to serve, I looked at my wife, Kay, sitting in the stands. She usually avoided my sporting events. I couldn’t blame her; I had always put sport before her in my life. But today Kay wasn’t just there, she was beaming. As I watched his beaming smile, I lost him, right there on the field. Suddenly, I understood why God had allowed this accident. He cared so much about our marriage.

I have gathered enough to serve. We won this game and the next. As the competition intensified, the coach had to withdraw me, but our team won the gold medal.

life from death

Back home, my health continued to improve. Then all of a sudden my liver stopped. During major surgery, doctors bypassed her with a shunt. It saved my life, but the unfiltered blood reaching my brain made my hands shake so violently that I had to sit on them. I asked for a liver transplant and waited.

A year passed, then two. No call from the transplant hospital. How to pray for a transplant? For me to live, someone else had to die. What makes me better than someone else’s husband or father?

One day it occurred to me that this was not the first time that someone needed to die so that I could live. Jesus had done this for me. If God loved me so much, I could trust him with my future.

In what seemed like a divinely inspired conversation, Kay and I learned that Indiana has twice as many registered organ donors as Michigan. So we rented an apartment in Indianapolis and asked for a transplant. Two months later, we received a call: a man had died in an accident; I was one of ten transplant candidates who would benefit.

Through the valley

The speed of my recovery amazed the doctors. For the first time in five years, I subscribed to a magazine in my own name. But I pushed the rehabilitation too far. While doing sit-ups, I tore the incision in my abdominal muscles. During an emergency surgery, the doctors put a net inside my abdomen and stitched the muscles in place. A tube was inserted through my nose and into my stomach to pump out fluids.

After the operation, I had to sit in bed in a motionless position without food. Time passed so slowly that the second the clock hand seemed to have stopped. One day dragged by… two days… three days… how long would this agony last? I had never felt so hopeless and miserable.

Around 4 am on the fourth night – the longest night of my life – I cried out to God, “Lord, take me!” I can’t do this anymore. Kay was by my side, where she had been faithfully since my accident. She whispered, “Me neither. At that point, Kay and I gave up completely. We were at the absolute bottom of the valley – the blackest hole we could imagine.

Fifteen minutes later, our surgeon unexpectedly came into the room and said, “I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like something had changed. He checked my vital signs. “We can remove the tube. At the end of that day, I was walking. A month later, I returned to full-time work.

Jump and walk for joy

My left leg had no nerves, so I thought my volleyball days were over. But my physiotherapist had an idea. She tied my knees and ankles so I could jump rope. I worked up to two jumps… then six… then twenty! I was so excited that I phoned a former volleyball teammate, “Hey, Tim, I can jump!”

“That’s great! We have a volleyball tournament in Milwaukee in two weeks. Come play?” It seemed far-fetched, but two weeks later, at the last minute, I decided to go. When I arrived, my former teammates stood up and clapped. It was a moving scene.

The first five games were tough, but in game six I got a perfect set and a legit kill. A few minutes later, I blocked for the play point. That taught me an important lesson: don’t waste time wishing you could do the impossible. Do your best and sometimes the impossible happens.

After the game, I thanked my former coach, John Wilder, for inspiring me at the start. “You’re the one who deserves the credit,” John said. “You never gave up.”

“Actually, John, I gave up, but God never gave up on me.”

In 2009, seven years after my accident, I received an email from Sarah Scholl: “I have a boyfriend, are you coming?”

What a joy it was to walk – not in a wheelchair, but to walk – Sarah down the aisle.

Andy DeVries is director of development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

A full diary of his journey is published on caringbridge.org under the name “andydevries”.

Its website has had over 25,000 visits.

2011 Andy DeVries

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