By Penny Koval, DC
I believe that if we were all really honest with ourselves and look back over our life we could remember a moment when life changed. The moment may not have created an instantaneous change but initiated a chain of events that potentially would redirect our lives. For me that day was August 6, 1996.
Interrupted sleep was becoming a common event and that night included several trips to the bathroom and a response to our 22 month old son, Caleb who had fallen out of his “big boy” bed. Responding to Caleb during the night seemed insignificant and as we brought him into our bed, he whimpered a little and went right back to sleep. At the time he didn’t appear hurt, but who was looking - it was 2:00 am and it was not uncommon for him to want to be with mom and dad. Knowing that he was getting a little brother or sister in the very near future we assumed he was making the best of being an only child for as long as he could. At 6:00 a.m. we woke up to more whimpering and the moment that changed our lives forever.
Sometime during the night Caleb had suffered a stroke and that morning he woke unable to talk or move his entire right side. My husband and I both were chiropractors and well aware of Caleb’s orthopedic and neurological deficits, but parental denial eliminated reality. We rushed him to the local hospital, where tests confirmed an infarction at the base of his brain. His diagnosis a CVA (Cerebro-vascular Accident), cause unknown and prognosis unknown. The next 18 months consisted of weekly 10-15 hours of therapeutic activities for Caleb.
Immediately, our house was turned into a therapy center and everything we did was to challenge Caleb’s physical abilities. A trampoline in the middle of the living room, hockey sticks and balls laying everywhere, were just some of the tools utilized to encourage activity. In an attempt to make him use his weak side we tied down his left side and made him use his right side for activities. (Two years later CNN announced a new and innovative treatment for stroke victims – Constraint Induced Therapy). Our rehab protocols were a combination of both traditional and alternative modalities and our incentives were sport activities to encourage participation, music to motivate him and lots of hugs and kisses as rewards for his hard work.
As Caleb slowly recovered physically, Dan and I were working through the pain of watching our once healthy son struggle. Each morning I experienced an overwhelming helplessness as I waited to hear Caleb limp down the hall hoping that he was still ok and that our newborn daughter Kylee would not have to experience a similar tragedy. You see the problem with not knowing the cause always allowed a question in my head, “what if it happens again?” That question replayed in my mind over and over, compromising my ability to experience life to its fullest – I was living in fear. That same question I know ran through my husband’s head but his response to it was much different. Little did I know at the time that Dan had relinquished that fear to God and he had decided to let God take care of Caleb. When Dan shared his thoughts on that matter with me, my life took on a new meaning. He explained that Caleb was a gift from God and that we were blessed with the opportunity to love him for as long as God would allow. He stated that should God choose to take him home, we would have to be ok. It was at that moment that I realized that I am not in control and that there is a God up above who loved all of us.
He was the God who carried me through the months of pain that immediately followed Caleb’s injury, regardless of the fact that I did not seek Him. It seemed that at the time I was unable to understand what, why and how this could have happened and didn’t quite have the energy to figure it all out. Caleb and our family were placed upon prayer lists that expanded around the world and his recovery was slow but miraculous. God’s hand was at work and He was busy just making sure that our family was ok. Not only was Caleb healing physically, but his ability to tap into the presence of God was awesome. By the age of four you could find him starring out the window and when asked what he was doing would say, “Just talking to Jesus”. As God would have His way it appeared that we all began to talk a bit more to Jesus and as months turned into years our lives transformed.
Five years after Caleb’s injury we concluded that our worst nightmare turned into God’s greatest blessing. God only knows what our life would have been like had we not been redirected. Our home became a place of love, forgiveness, compassion and thankfulness and the healing was not limited to the physical, but included the mental and spiritual. God’s grace would prevail and today we humbly share our life experience with others in hopes that they too would come to understand true healing.
Improving health and the quality of life has been my passion. At the age of 10, when most kids were playing with their friends I was spending summers and week ends volunteering at a residential facility for the profoundly retarded. By 16, I had graduated from childcare to work at a nursing home, serving the seniors. I found dementia fascinating and enjoyed any opportunity that I could to serve those who were incapable of serving themselves.
My undergraduate studies landed me an internship program at Elizabethtown Rehab, (which later became Penn State University Rehab) and my first career experience as a rehabilitation counselor introduced me to the miracles of modern medicine. I observed the transformation of severely disabled individuals through the acute rehab process and learned the power of personal “Will”. It became obvious to me that every individual was capable of having a significant impact on their ability to become well, regardless of their limitations.
Little did I know that as I was becoming a part of the traditional health care system and pursuing a master’s degree in hospital administration that my husband’s desire to become a chiropractor would stir an interest within me to step out of the traditional health care arena. With little understanding of what Chiropractic was I sought advice from my co-workers, only to find out that chiropractic was not a “good thing”. With the desire to better understand the profession Dan was considering, I investigated Chiropractic and later decided to join him in spending the next 4 years in chiropractic school.
It was there that I was taught anatomy, physiology, neurology, orthopedics, nutrition and other ologies related to health. I also learned what holistic meant, as well as why some would call chiropractic quakery. It was in the midst of Chiropractic school that I began to understand that there was a war between traditional and alternative health care and the tragedies of this conflict resulted in compromised health for those we took an oath to serve. We graduated somewhat desensitized to the miracles of modern medicine and enlightened by the power of the body to heal, but not yet understanding the need for balance between the two. We had been practicing Chiropractic for three years when Caleb had his stroke and the need for an integrative health program became real, it was “Game Time”.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, Divine Intervention was our primary care provider and we learned first hand the benefit of having accessibility to modern medicine and later discovered the importance of taking initiative and maximizing our resources for all aspects of health in body, mind and spirit. Once Caleb was deemed medically stable and nothing else could be done for him in the hospital we initiated a journey of healing. Caleb’s physical deficits required aggressive rehab intervention. We provided well balanced meals and nutritional supplementation to improve his well-being, chiropractic and massage to improve muscle tone and balance to his nerve system. Our emotional support came from friends and family who stabilized our mental well-being and our daily activities were bathed in prayer from people all around the world.
The inter-disciplinary approach to healing came as a result of our personal journey, but combining it with our professional experience and expertise made it an ongoing research project. It appeared that God had orchestrated Caleb’s protocol for healing. Understanding holistic healing was vital for us as we worked through Caleb’s recovery not only for him, but for us as his parents. We exercised our body, mind and spirits and as we became proficient and realized the effectiveness of such an approach we began incorporating the concept into our chiropractic practice. Educating people to take responsibility for their own health became our purpose. We became passionate about teaching our patients the importance of exercise, nutrition and good mental health. But as our lives returned to some sense of normalcy and Caleb’s recovery allowed him to participate in the normal activities of a young boy his age, despite a mild limp that became quite obvious with fatigue we also recognized the importance of God in our life. For our family our faith provided us the peace and acceptance of circumstance that previously would have created turmoil.