Keeping the Faith
Alyssa Armstrong was always one of those kids who pushed the envelope. Vibrant and athletic, she was a fearless soccer player and constantly on the go with her friends.
So it was not surprising that on a cold day in February 2010, Ally was up for a sledding expedition with her pals. The conditions were right and everyone was in high spirits. One hill in particular caught Ally’s attention. It was steep but not impossible. Other kids were sailing down it so why not her?
Ally began her descent. It was thrilling. Suddenly, she flipped off her sled and landed hard on her back. “I felt like my legs came off,” she recalls. “It felt like a shock went up my back, but I wasn’t in any pain at all.”
Ally, then only 17 years old, suffered a spinal cord injury. Her mother April recalls her daughter’s words as she lay in the hospital awaiting a final diagnosis. “I’m sorry,” Ally said. “I made a bad choice.”
Ally’s legs were paralyzed but not her spirit or her faith. The vivacious 18-year-old Parkland High School senior prom queen and now graduate, is forging ahead determined to grab all life has to offer and inspire others like her to do the same. Through it all, her Good Shepherd therapists and caregivers, her family, her friends, her church, and her faith in God have sustained her through a maelstrom of emotions that sometimes brought more questions than answers.
“I was questioning, why me, and why did I deserve this,” says Ally. “I kind of got angry at God… But my mom showed me that He didn’t place this on me. It was a really freaky thing and He’s going to help me find my way out.”
And, judging from the sparkling smile that graces Ally’s face and the love that exudes from this remarkable family, the grace of God is indeed, at work in all their lives.
Ally and her mother shared that grace with congregants at Jordan United Church of Christ, where Ally has grown up, attends Sunday school and is active in the youth group. They talked about how a “typical, boring family” from Schnecksville that “oozed normalcy” suddenly found themselves anything but typical. They also talked about making some hard choices at a time that put their faith to the test.
“We’ve always tried to live our faith through mission and prayer” says April. “I truly believe as a Christian, through our faith in Christ and His gift, we can put our faith in God’s hands and it will be okay. Suffering is real. You can choose to suffer alone or you can choose to suffer with God, and I am so glad I chose to suffer with God.”
Ally, too, had big choices to make. Life had taken one choice from her, her ability to walk, but now she would choose how to respond to her own personal tragedy.
At Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, where she spent six weeks undergoing
inpatient rehabilitation therapy followed by three months of outpatient therapy, Ally found a cradle of support that nurtured her faith and helped her start to envision a more hopeful future.
“During my stay, I knew Jesus wasn’t able to be there physically, but I was fortunate enough to have great nurses and therapists who pushed me through,” she says. “It was hard at the beginning, because I wasn’t used to everything that changed with my body and some days I was just so tired. But a lot of my nurses would always talk to me and let me vent and cry to them, and that really helped a lot.”
Through counseling at Good Shepherd, Ally learned about another teenage girl with a spinal cord injury at the hospital. “I went in and talked with her, and she and her mom were so happy,” Ally says. “After she left (the hospital), she texted me to say how much happier she was. Once you get out and start experiencing how to live again, you’ll get happier each day.”
On Monday, June 13, to the sound of cheers and loud applause, Ally graduated with the Parkland High School Class of 2011 in an emotional ceremony at Stabler Center.
Ally begins her freshman year of college in August at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She is considering a career in health care, possibly occupational therapy. Her view of life has changed drastically. “I think that kids my age don’t really know what the reason for life is,” she says. “And I think because of my accident, I am able to see all the good that can come out of it and am able to offer inspiration and hope.”
Ally holds on passionately to her independence. She completed the Adaptive Driv-ing Program at Good Shepherd and gets around with modifications made to her car. And, she requested that her college roommate be fully-abled because Ally does not think of herself as disabled.
“I learned that I can deal with tragedy and it’s made me a stronger person,” she says. “There are things in life that happen for a reason, and sometimes they’re not always good. But I believe better things will come. God is good.
All the time.”
If you're inspired by Ally's story, please make an online gift now that wil keep Good Shepherd in the forefront of rehabilitative therapies and technologies. Thank you.
Photo: Alyssa Armstrong speaking at Jordan United Church of Christ.