Beating The Odds: The Story of My Life
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note: I wrote this by hand in about early January of 1984 for a class assignment. Unfortunately, I don’t recall which class it was for, and it has only my name on it. While I think it was for an English class, it may have been for a History class. Near the end, I mention that I’m about to go in for surgery “on the 24th,” and I had surgery on January 24th of 1984. Some minor edits have been made. More extensive parenthetical explanations, which are necessary for context in hindsight, are included in brackets, and headings also have been added. However, as an original, contemporaneous source that talks about some of the innermost feelings of my then-eighth-grade self during a very pivotal, very dramatic (and yet very optimistic) time in my life, I felt very little need to make major changes. I felt to say then (and still feel to say, whenever I ponder these events), as Elisha told his young servant, “Fear not, for they that be with [me] are more than [any] that be [against me]” (see 2 Kings 6:17).
Whatever confusion and ambivalence I might feel about some events that have taken place (and about some events that have not taken place) in my life in the interim, like the Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, I can only say, “I know not the meaning of all things; nevertheless, I know that [God] loveth His children” (1 Nephi 11:17). Even today, I feel much the same way about these events as I felt then. To do otherwise would be to doubt the obvious Hand of God in my life. As Nephi also said, “I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support” (See 2 Nephi 4:19-20).
* * *
My Struggle to Survive
From the beginning, my life has clearly been a story of beating the odds, and it all began with my struggle for survival. I was born on October 30, 1969, at 2:03 p.m., weighing a mere 3 lbs. 5 oz., and only 16 inches long. I was given a 50/50 chance of survival. [Actually, Dad recounted to me the conversation he had with Dr. Joseph Mayo, who delivered me.] The first words out of his mouth were, “It’s a boy.” The next words out of his mouth were, “Don’t expect him to live throughout the night. As I have written elsewhere, fortunately, the doctor proved to be better at medicine than he was at prophecy.]
A Diagnosis, and Further Treatment
Placed before me was my first hurdle. 7 ½ weeks later, on December 19, 1969, I was released from the hospital, having cleared only the first of many such obstacles. On January 19, 1971, 13 months later, I was diagnosed as having a “mild” case of Cerebral Palsy by Dr. Robert H. Lamb. Clearer became the picture of what I had to overcome. In April of 1973, surgery was performed on my left Achilles tendon to correct the shortness and tightness of it, which caused me to walk on my toes. [I don’t remember this, but apparently I was placed into a body cast for six weeks, one which probably covered my left leg, extended to my right knee, and had a cross bar separating the two; that was Dr. Lamb’s postoperative regimen of choice.]
In May of 1976, I had my first taste of what many consider to be “minor” surgery. I was in the first grade and doing quite well . . . except when it came to penmanship. The letters were copied on the blackboard, but they never seemed to flow as easily off of my fingertips as they do now. [There is some irony in this statement, as I am typing from a handwritten account, and my writing hand tends to get really tired when I write longhand for long periods of time; typing is much easier.]
I recall one particular instance in which I used the excuse, “I can’t see the blackboard.” Mrs. Horrocks, my first grade teacher, replied, “You can’t see the board my eye.” The problem was that the muscles in my left eye were weaker than those in my right. Both eyes should provide different angle views of the object one is looking at. However, because of the weaker eye, I had vision problems. The surgery to correct them was performed by Dr. Kim Y. Taylor. Thanks to him, all I had to show for it was a bloody eye and double vision. [That seems harsh; after all, he did correct the problem.] I did, however, have him to thank for better penmanship.
Even More Challenges
Only nine months later, in February of 1977, Dr. Lamb performed surgery on my left hip to correct the fact that my abductor was turned inward, causing me to walk with that leg turned inward on a 45-degree angle. Following the operation, I was again placed in a body cast, which again covered my left leg,, half of my right leg to the knee, and came all the way up to the middle of my abdomen, with a cross bar separating the two legs. I was placed in this cast for six weeks, TOTALLY IMMOBILIZED.
After this operation, I was given a cart to push before me as an aid to help me walk. Thanks, once again, to Dr. Lamb, I am able to walk fairly normally today, and hopefully, someday soon, I wll be able to run, play basketball, and do all the things which are pleasing to myself and to my Lord.
Things eventually settled down for the four year period between 1977 and 1981. However, in October of 1981, began experiencing pain in my left hip. After having it x-rayed, we discovered that I had an inflammation in the lining of my left hip; something more serious, however, was also discovered, something that neither the doctors, nor my parents, nor I liked.
Because of the way I walked [with a limp, favoring my left side] my left hip gradually had become dislocated over a period of years. The operation Dr. Lamb performed to correct the problem, known as an innominate osteotomy, or hip shelf, occurred on October 23, 1981 [one week before my twelfth birthday]. I was again placed into a body cast (for the third time), for six weeks, and again, my leg muscles atrophied because of underuse. It was at this time that I met Jan Hurst.
Jan was (and is) the stereotype of a “typical” physical therapist – uncompromising, stubborn, and as Curt Brinkman [one of my idols, who won the 1980 Boston Marathon in a wheelchair with a time of 1:55 – you might say that’s easy enough in a wheelchair because of the speed he could pick up going downhill; in response, I would ask, “Have you ever tried to push a wheelchair uphill?”] put it, “You can’t tell a physical therapist what you will do and what you won’t. They’re too noble for that.”
And all of this was only the beginning.
In July of 1982, at an appointment with Dr. Lamb, an x-ray was taken. He examined it and said that he “wasn’t pleased with the spacing” between ball and socket but that he “would have to do some really serious thinking before going back in.” However, on August 21, 1982, he performed a modified hip shelf, and again, he placed me into a body cast that was the same as all of the others I had worn. After I got out of the cast, I continued therapy.
I started taking life day by day, moment by moment, up one moment and down the next. But deep inside me, a question lay unanswered. I wasn’t ready to commit myself to months of physical therapy with no clear view of my goal in mind. Then, the turning point came. Last summer my dad sat me down and had a pep talk with me. (You know, the “You can be anything you want to be!” kind.)
And the funny thing is, it worked! That talk started a fire in me that has yet to burn out. I worked hard over the summer and progressed.
More Recent Events
Upon the recommendation of my physical therapist, on December 12, 1983, we went to see Dr. Peter M. Stevens, who recommended the following:
- A Chiari Osteotomy. [From what I understand, from my decidedly-limited, layperson point of view, the Chiari Osteotomy is a procedure of last resort, only opted for when extensive hip revision surgery that has not been successful has already been done. The Chiari osteotomy is a pelvic, as opposed to a femoral, osteotomy, involving reconstruction of the hip socket rather than reconstruction of the femoral head in an effort to provide the latter with better coverage by the former.]
- In a separate procedure, one of my groin muscles also would be lengthened in order to provide better outward rotation and motion, or abduction, in my left leg and hip. I’m not sure which exact muscle this procedure was performed on even after all of these years; it might have been the Sartorius muscle. See here, last accessed October 8, 2014 (scroll down to the third row of muscles; the Sartorius is second from the left):
[These procedures are to be done at Primary Children’s Hospital.] I go in on [January] 24th, , and will have the [first] procedure done on that day. [I went back into the hospital on February 14th, 1984, and had the second procedure done on that day.]
The good news is, “Dr. Peter” doesn’t want to put me in one of those “shells,” and I will miss only two weeks (maximum) of school. I’m cautiously but jubilantly optimistic about this. [Caution and jubilation aren’t usually mentioned together, but with even the benefit of more than 30 intervening years, I cannot think of a better description of the way I felt.] Let’s hope number six [the number of surgeries I would have had by the time I had the first of these two] is my lucky number. Some unlucky statistics were quoted to me by other doctors, but they are now going to be tossed aside; as another chapter unfolds in the saga, I will rely on the great mental strength and physical courage that my Lord gave me.
In closing, I would like to quote a saying I read recently:
“Some people are crippled by adversity.
“Some are destroyed by it.
“Others are made by it!”
Afterword: The instructor who made the assignment comments, in her proverbial red pen (I achieved a score of 290 oof 300 points possible), “Great job – I truly admire your courage & faith – good luck on the 24th – let’s hope this is the lucky one!” I recently commented elsewhere about the events in this period of my life, including additional information on childhood struggles with bullying and the unsuccessful operations that led up to the events described here. I believe the respective accounts provide useful context for one another. That account, written in July of 2013 in response to a query at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion – “Does hope work?” – and also posted on this blog, is located here (last accessed November 15, 2014: