INSPIRATIONAL LIVING

Is there anyone in your life who you consider lives a truly inspirational life?  By this, I mean that their whole life is a true inspiration. I have found the people’s lives that have the greatest impact on me are the ones who endure lives filled with physical challenges.

As I was thinking about the people I have known through the years, two special people fall into that category of “Inspirational Living” for me.

When I was a young teen, I started volunteering at a local hospital delivering flowers to patients, working in the coffee shop and doing various other activities. As time progressed, I eventually got to help out on a patient floor as well.  During that time, I met a special lady, Veronica Dribnock, who ended up being a patient at the hospital for three and half years. She was soon nicknamed “The Sweetheart of North Tower 4.”

When I met Veronica, she was a quadriplegic and had lived that way for 18 years.  I had the blessing of knowing her for about 3 years before she died.  Here is a short synopsis of some of the physical challenges she faced so valiantly.

By the time Veronica was a senior in high school, they learned she had a disease that caused her to have a weakness in her arms and legs.  Eventually, she was diagnosed with Syringomyelia, which is the growth of tubular cysts in the spinal cord.  As the cysts grow in length, the nervous system’s messages to various parts of the body weaken and will eventually be shut off. Unfortunately, many times the cysts can not be removed surgically because of their location.

When Veronica was about 25 years old, she could no longer work due to the progression of the disease. She became completely paralyzed except for some movement in her hands.  Veronica was able to stay in her parent’s house for 18 years. They put her bed in the living room so she could see out the big picture window. When Veronica was 43 years old and developed pneumonia, it was decided she would stay permanently in the hospital because the weakened condition of her chest muscles made her very susceptible to respiratory infections.

By the time she was in the hospital, the disease had claimed the little movement she had in her hands. Veronica did not want to be a burden for anyone and wanted a little bit of independence.  It was such a blessing that a friend of hers who was also an electrician at the hospital invented a device that enabled Veronica to have a control box resting on her chest.  This control box had some tubes coming out of it which she could use her chin to activate.  In the beginning, there were three controls…one for the TV, one for the telephone, and one for the nurse’s call button. Shortly before Veronica died, the electrician had perfected a nine function device for her use.

veronica newest - Reduced Size
Veronica Dribnock
Photo credit:  Hi-Lights of Wilson Memorial Hospital-June 1980

 Despite being a quadriplegic for 21 years, Veronica’s life exemplified many things that we can all learn from.

  • Veronica always had a big smile on her face
  • Veronica was always positive no matter what her circumstances
  • Veronica always cared about others, asking about  them and their family
  • Veronica always made you feel special and like you truly mattered to her
  • Veronica faced life with courage and faith
What a wonderful example of a grace-filled life Veronica’s life on earth was for each of us that came in contact with her.  I am so blessed that I had the opportunity to meet her and to call her friend. For me, it was always a blessing to help her in whatever small way I could.  I am sure that her life and example to me when I was a young teen has helped shaped me into the person I am today.

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It has been a distinct honor and privilege to have an inspirational couple in my life, who have really come to mean even more to me these past few years.. Dr. Gregorio Pedroza, and his wife Lilly.

It is amazing to think I met them about 31 years ago, but during the past 2 1/2 years, I have gotten to know them more personally through frequent visits to let them know how much we love and care for them, and to provide assistance in whatever small way we can.

Greg’s story began back in 1981 when he was 40 years old.  At that time, Greg & Lilly’s three children were ages 18, 17, and 16 years old.  Their middle child, Vince, was my husband’s best friend while growing up.

Greg was experiencing some tingling in his right hand. At this time in history, there were no MRI’s or CAT scans available, so he endured many difficult tests to determine the cause.  Greg ended up seeing 19 doctors before a Dr. in NYC (about 3 1/2 hrs from their home) finally discovered he had a tumor at the base of his brain inside the spinal cord.

Drs. told Greg if they operated, he would have a 99% of being a quadriplegic, and if they did not operate, they gave him six months to live.  The tumor was located near the area of the body that controls your heartbeat, functionality to breath, and other involuntary bodily functions.  The Dr. also said if they operated, whatever condition he woke up in, would be the way he would remain.

After this final diagnosis, Greg came home for a year at which time he basically slept all the time.  It took that long to find a Dr. who could operate using high frequency sound rather than a knife because the tumor was such a bad one, and in a location which made it even trickier to operate on.  The Dr. they finally found in NYC had actually only performed this procedure on children, never on an adult.

Sept. 7, 1982 was operation day for Greg.  He was in the hospital for two weeks, and then spent three months in rehab in NYC.  The result of the surgery was that Greg lost the use of his right arm, his balance was not too good, and he could walk only with assistance. His left side was left strong but numb. Greg arrived back to his home on Dec. 20, 1982. He endured both chemo and radiation as the tumor was cancerous. Jan 11, 1983, Greg returned to his job at IBM as an engineer manager.  When he returned to work, he used a scooter to start with and eventually he graduated to a walker, then cane. Greg was able to work for 10 more years before his health challenges forced him to retire.

The Dr. ended up “unroofing” Greg’s spinal cord, so in addition, he was left with continual, chronic pain, 24 hrs, 7 days a week, that he has now endured for 32 years.  This is called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome which is characterized by severe non-stop burning pain, and extreme sensitivity to touch. “Dante’s Inferno”, the feeling of constantly being on fire is another constant in Greg’s life.  Sleep is the only refuge he gets from this feeling of fire.

Two and half years ago, Greg & Lilly were at a friend’s cottage celebrating the Fourth of July holiday.  He was pretty much wheelchair bound as his condition was deteriorating his leg use even more.  He had an unfortunate accident where he ended up hitting the back of his head on three steps as he fell while in the wheelchair. This event paralyzed him, but he did recover some use of his left hand from the elbow down. He is now considered a limited functioning quadriplegic who is wheelchair bound.

Greg ended up in Syracuse, NY (about 1 1/2 hrs from their home) at a hospital for six weeks and then in a rehab unit  for another six weeks.   It was at this time, that we would go visit him and where I gained even a greater appreciation for what he and Lilly were going through. It was so hard to see what he was enduring after already living for so many years with such physical limitations.

It has been a long road for him and Lilly these past few years.  We were so happy they were able to bring Greg home after rehab despite the additional physical challenges and limitations.  With Greg’s great mind thinking of ways to do things and different inventions, my husband, and other people Greg knows have adapted different things in their house to allow him to stay at home, which has been a huge blessing.  It has helped Greg still be somewhat independent. Their house now sports a pretty amazing contraption they came up with to help Greg go to the bathroom by himself.

To help him forget about his pain, Greg, through the years, has turned to storytelling and writing.  He has traveled extensively sharing his stories, laughter and joy.  It helps him forget for a few moments the constant pain he endures. I think his poems of alliteration are pretty amazing. Greg has published the following:

“My Glow Days”-Book of poems about his pain

“Short Stories from the Heart”-Book of short stories

“We”-Love poems to his wife, Lilly

6 CD’s of Short Stories

Throughout Greg’s constant pain and health issues through these 32 years, Greg’s life is characterized by service to others and love for others.  I am always amazed to hear how he is tutoring someone in college, ministering to others who are suffering, calling shut-in’s to check on them, writing to inmates in prison, praying for people who send him cards, and the list goes on and on.  What a beautiful example of sharing Christ with others no matter what your circumstances!

In sharing Greg’s story, I can’t help but also say how much respect and credit that I have for his wife, Lilly. She, too, lives an inspirational life because she is always there to support Greg with his physical needs and in doing so many things around the house that Greg can not do.  She literally has become Greg’s hands and feet to keep their house still running. The patience, unconditional love and service she provides is exemplary. Another of Lilly’s gifts is her love of cooking to serve others.  But, thinking about how she does even all the cooking herself with such love, is also an inspiration.  Shopping, cooking, and cleaning up every single day, at every single meal with no break without complaining is a wonderful thing.  She too, is also always upbeat and loving.

GregandLilly
 Dr. Gregorio and Lilly Pedroza

Despite the many health challenges and constant pain Greg has endured the past 32 years, Greg has also presented us with many positive examples of ways to live that we can benefit from:

  • Greg is always cheerful and has a great smile to share
  • Greg is so positive and finds the blessing in everything
  • Greg has a great faith which helps keep him going
  • Greg always cares about how others are doing
  • Greg is always expanding his knowledge and learning
  • Greg continues to help others no matter what his physical limitations might be
When I go to visit Greg and Lilly, I am always refreshed and inspired, leaving much more blessed than when I came.  Greg and Lilly are such wonderful examples of making YOU feel special, loved and cared for and how to not let anything stop you from doing what God has called you to do.

I am so thankful for the wonderful lessons that Veronica, Greg, and Lilly have taught me by their truly inspirational lives.  I wish they did not have to suffer, but some day they will be free of their physical limitations again.  In the meantime, it is a blessing to view the inspirational lessons their lives are and to try to be there to help others in whatever way we can.

…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.  –Romans 5:2-5

12 Comments

  1. Thanks, Christine for sharing these inspirational stories of people who live/lived their lives with such courage and faith and whose love of the Lord is exemplified in their daily existence. Having been acquainted with both Greg & Lilly from St. Margaret Mary’s, I especially appreciated the history and update on them.
    Lynn

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  2. I was a medical resident and I took care of Veronica from 1978 to 1979. I remember you Chrsitine and your sister Karen. I still think of Veronica often and her indomitable spirit. Despite her disability, she was a really great person and always fun to talk to. (I also played some practical jokes on her and she talked the nurses into getting even with me.) Thank you for bringing back some memories.

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