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Cora Jane Caston Wallace always wanted to be a writer. But that was not an option for her. In fact, she had to quit school because her parents needed her at home. The day her mother said she wasn’t going back to school, Wallace cried all night.
Wallace later went to work for Springs Industries. She married Monroe Wallace and they had four children. Their youngest child, Suzanne, was diagnosed at an early age with a rare condition called congenital pseudoarthrosis.
Numerous operations, procedures and years of treatment failed to correct the problem and Suzanne’s lower leg was amputated one week after she graduated from high school.
Wallace chronicled the journey of a mother’s love, faith and strength that helped her cope through the trying years. Her story was published in the September 1972 edition of Homelife Magazine.
We have permission from Lifeway Christian Resources to reprint Wallace’s article, “It’s a Great Life.”
We are publishing the first half of her story today and the rest in Sunday’s edition.
Take time to read her story. Then decide if she fulfilled her dream to be a writer.
– Barbara Rutledge, editor
“It’s a Great Life” Part I
By Cora Wallace
Our young daughter, forgetting the word “handicapped,” exclaimed, “It’s a great life!” On a beautiful day in May 1949, I slowly came back to reality, opening my eyes to white hospital walls and starched uniforms. I was very happy when my husband said, “Honey, our other little girl has arrived; and she is a beauty, with perfect features and healthy as can be.”
I closed my eyes and thanked God for his every blessing. My mind then wandered back to my girlhood. My fondest dream was a home, a husband and four children, two boys and two girls. Now that dream was complete with the birth of our youngest. Edward, the oldest, was 15; Jane, 10; Lynn, 5; and now baby Suzanne. We could hardly believe everything was so perfect.
Our days were filled with work and play, love and laughter. We were active in a Baptist church, where my husband and I both taught Sunday school classes. Our skies were clear and filled with sunshine until early 1951 when a small dark cloud crossed our horizon, Our baby Suzanne had developed a slight limp in her right leg.
We immediately called our family doctor, who advised us to take her to an orthopedic specialist whose office was located in a city about 40 miles from our home. Our minds were eased somewhat when he recommended corrective shoes and regular checkups.
For a short while, Suzanne did fairly well. But in August of that same year, we had to take her to the hospital for exploratory surgery.
She was a tiny blonde with blue eyes, a wonderful disposition, always laughing and singing. She captured the heart of everyone who met her. After examinations and tests, it was discovered that her right ankle did not have complete union. She had to wear a short cast for three months. Shortly thereafter, she began to have severe pain in her leg. Numerous X-rays showed the largest bone, the tibia, was broken about two inches above the ankle. That meant another cast up to her hip, which she wore about six months. We prayed that this would be the end of the problem.
When the cast was removed, the bone was the same. It had not begun to knit at all. She had developed a rare condition called congenital pseudoarthrosis. Our hearts were crushed as the doctor told us what complications might develop. It could be a long, drawn-out illness with pain and many operations, or it could mean amputation. The doctor assured us that he would do everything in his power to help save her limb.
Suzanne was three and a half years old when she put on her first heavy brace. Then the year before she was to start school, the operations began. The doctor tried every conceivable technique to get the bones to knit. A steel pin inserted from knee to ankle proved unsuccessful. We were so sure the attempted bone fusion would work, but it didn’t. There were many seemingly wasted summers of pain and discomfort.
After about four years of operations, casts and braces, I had given up all hope. But not Suzanne!
She was in school now – a never complaining, happy-go-lucky little girl who bore her handicap much better than her parents did.
Her next operation, a bone graft, seemed more than I could stand. It was a gray, rainy morning, the kind that makes you think the whole world is sad. The rain trickled down the windowpanes as though they were heaven’s tears.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, an old familiar sound reached our ears. The dreadful bumping as the orderlies maneuvered the stretcher into the room tore down my last reserve of strength. They were wheeling her out of the room when she reached to wipe a tear from my cheek and said, “Mommy, please don’t cry. It won’t hurt very much.”
As the door closed behind them, the tears flowed down my cheeks unheeded. I remember saying to my husband, “Why does she have to go through with this again and again?” He made me feel so small, as he slipped his arm around me and wiped my tear-stained face, saying, “Honey, where is your faith? Don’t you know that you and I have done everything possible, and that the doctors and nurses are doing the same? Just realize that God is watching over her, and whatever is his will should be ours also.” I was ashamed and asked God’s forgiveness, praying for a greater faith. He gave me that and, even more, grace to endure whatever was ahead.
Suzanne loved music, having started lessons in the second grade. She soon became quite a musician. While her friends were out playing ball and active games, she watched from the window and cheered them on, never feeling sorry for herself.
I would watch her leave for school in the mornings, happily chatting with her classmates, forgetting the heavy brace and large, brown surgical shoe. I was so thankful for her attitude. Her one wish, though, was to wear two shoes of the same kind. But one foot was always in a dainty slipper and the other in the brown shoe.
By her 10th birthday, Suzanne’s summer vacations were spent in the hospital with one bone graft after another. The bone fragments were chipped from her hips and the other leg. She had a severe infection, which resulted in wearing a cast her entire freshman year. “Walking with crutches in the snow was fun,” she said, “even though my toes felt as though the snowman had bitten them.” Her teachers and friends were all wonderful. They helped her in many ways.
The family had planned a vacation to the beach that year. When she heard us making plans to call it off, she pleaded with us to go anyway. So away we went, after packing crutches, gauze, medicine and especially a plastic bag to slipcover her cast. That didn’t keep the sand out by any means, but we all had a wonderful time. When we retuned home, it was back to the hospital, this time to clear the infection. She shared a room with another teen-age girl, and they had a lot of fun. When Suzanne was dismissed, she said, “This feels like my second home; I believe I’ll stay awhile longer.” We had made so many trips back and forth that a favorite expression of my husband was “Crank up that old ’53 car and it heads straight to the hospital.”
The population of our small city was about 10,000. Our high school football games were greatly enjoyed. And, of course, the band played at half-time. Although all the students looked alike when they were parading on the field, there was always one small figure I could pick out. She had to walk extra fast to keep up, but Suzanne loved every minute of it. She wouldn’t miss it unless it was impossible for her to be there. She came home from a five-mile Shrine Bowl parade with a broken brace and a blistered toe.
Although she was exhausted, she was excited and very happy.
See the rest of the story in Sunday’s edition.