Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy 2014!!!

So, tonight begins another New Year, 2014... How did this happen?! 2013 seems like such a blur! I know I say this a lot, but time does seem to be moving extremely fast! It's funny in retrospect, because during the years that I was so sick, time moved soooo.incredibly.slloooowwww. It stood still. I would pray every day for time to just speed up, so I could get to the other side of this, whatever the outcome might be, faster!

Well, my prayers have certainly been answered! :)

Sitting here, thinking over the past year, I am just in complete awe of the way that God continues to restore my life. 2013 has definitely been my best year of health yet since my ordeal began 8 years ago!!! The best news of all is that I am still in complete remission from RSD! 

My hero, the amazing Dr. Cantu, continues to follow my progress closely and is also very amazed at how great I am doing! He constantly reminds me that I am his "trophy" patient and I still need to be super careful about everything I do, so I don't break his hard-earned prize. haha :) Recovery after 6 years sick in a bed is a marathon- not a sprint, so I have to move slowly to avoid a relapse. I continue with my rehab, spending nearly 2 hours each day in the pool to try and wake up the muscles and nerves in my legs and strengthen my body. I can hold myself up with my arms for nearly 1 minute on the parallel bars now and I am feeling stronger each day!

It has truly been an amazing year of continued progress in my recovery, re-discovery of life, miracles and blessings too numerous to begin to count!

The biggest highlight, for sure, has been the honor and privilege of traveling around the country to speak in churches, at gatherings & in front of crowds as large as 27,000 people to share the miracle God has done in my life!

Having teenagers come up to me, sharing their past hurts and pains, telling me that by showing my scars, they now feel like they too can heal with God's help...is an indescribable feeling. I feel so humbled that God would choose to take the worst moments of my life, and use them for His glory to help someone else get through theirs. I never thought I would want to get up on a stage and talk about my illness... But seeing what Jesus has done for me, I can't keep quiet. He is so worthy of all of the glory and praise!

Here are a few pictures from various retreats and event this past year! The most special, of course, was returning to my hometown church in Garden City, NY!

 In between frequent travels for continued medical treatment and speaking, I have also been attending college for the past 6 months, to become a Physicians Assistant!

When God placed it on my heart earlier this year to apply what I learned while sick to study medicine, I was excited, but very nervous at the same time. I had been out of school for 9 years and had been through a lot in that time. I wasn't sure how my body/nervous system would react to the stress and demands that college brings- even for students in perfect health who haven't been in a few coma's ;)

But when God call's you to do something, He provides all that you need to accomplish it! I am proud to say that I just finished my second semester last week! I have been blessed with wonderful professors and classmates who are so accommodating and helpful to me!

I am happy to say that I have gotten all A's in every class I've taken! Apparently, the ketamine did good for my brain :)

In other Stevens news, my sister Katherine is now 22, working at a blueprinting company and planning to go back to school this fall! Michelle is 17 and a senior in High School! She is driving all over and getting ready to head off to college in the fall! My favorite thing to do is spend time with these two, I love them so much!!

My Dad continues to have his up's and down's with his crohn's disease, but on all fronts, 2013 has been a very good year health-wise for him as well. And my amazing Mom, what can I even say about her? She continues to be unconditionally devoted to my full recovery, traveling this road by my side and will not rest until that goal is accomplished and I am on my feet again. She is working on finishing writing her book of our journey and hopes to have it completed and published this year!

And of course, I can't forget Molly! Molly turned 12 in September and continues to bring joy and love into our lives every day! She is the happiest little thing and you can't help but be in the best mood whenever you see her wagging her tail at you!

Something we can all agree upon is that one of the biggest blessings to come our way in 2013 was finding our church home at Living Word Family Church. God has grown each one of us spiritually in our own walks with Him through Pastor Paul and Maria's messages and the great friends we have made there! We love our church! :)

Check out some of the sermons at napleschurch.com -It is not a 'traditional' church- and that is my favorite thing about it. I promise your life will be changed too. :)

Two weeks ago, I was water baptized by Pastor Paul (here, at my house, in my 95 degree heated pool-how awesome is that?!)

Being water baptized was very significant to me, and symbolic of leaving my old life of sickness behind and trusting in and embracing the healthy life and future God has planned for me.

It was an incredibly beautiful and freeing feeling to go under the water and re-emerge, envisioning washing off the past 8 years of illness and pain! Leaving it all at the bottom of the pool and placing whatever the future holds in Jesus' hands! :)

Satan came to steal and destroy... But Jesus is the author of life, restoration and new hope and I will continue claiming my healing in His name! ...Can't think of a better way to start off the new year!

That night after I was baptized, I decided to go back and read this blog, in its entirety from beginning to finish. It know it is weird, but I have never read the early posts my mom made while I was in critical condition. I figured I lived it, so didn't need to read it..but now, I feel so blessed that I did. You can never fully appreciate where you are now, until you realize where you once were....

This is a post my mom made on New Year 2010:

"Happy New Year to All,

The first day of the new year and my first blog of 2010.

Thank you all for all of your prayers for Jessica. The past ten days post the ICU were pretty rough, as she was fighting several infections and on 3 different antibiotics. Yesterday the fevers finally broke and the heart rate problems she is having also improved, so we praise God for this new day! Dr. Luigi is trying some different medications to help her with the constant headaches, as well as her pain. We have faith in God's promises to us. Faith isn't the ability to believe long and far into the future. It's simply taking God at his Word and taking the next step. Faith is the light that guides you through the darkness. It's knowing that tomorrow will hold the blessings of God! Faith is living each day - one at a time! This is my resolution for the new year!!!

Hoping that all of your New Year's resolutions come true!

In God's love, always,
Sarah Gina (Jessica's Mom)*"

Wow. Major respect to my amazing Mom. Thank you Mommy for never allowing me to lose my faith. This year and every year I will always be most thankful to God for being a God who...

Forgives all [my] sins and heals all [my] diseases,
who redeems [my] life from the pit

and crowns [me] with love and compassion,

who satisfies [my] desires with good things

so that [my] youth is renewed like the eagle's.

(Ps. 103:3-5)

I am excited to see what God has in store for 2014! I pray that this will be a wonderful year for all of you!

Thanks for checking in & catching up! I will try to do a better job keeping this blog updated in the coming new year! I am so thankful for all of the amazing people who continue to take this journey with me, your love, support and prayers mean the world to me!

And for all of my friends still suffering with this illness, my prayer is that this year brings healing, peace and comfort for you... Don't give up the fight because as a wise doctor likes to remind me "Where there is life- there is hope." By far, the lowest point of 2013 was the loss of my fellow RSD warrior and close friend, John, after suffering for 11 years in agony, he couldn't fight any longer. I will never understand the 'why' of all of this, but I know this: God is good, He loves you, and life on earth isn't the whole story. I won't stop praying for the cure to be found soon- and I pray 2014 will be the year for it! 

Stay faithful, prayerful, hopeful and strong!

In God's amazing love,


*To post a comment click on "comments" below*

Here is the video of my testimony in San Antonio, for anyone who missed it live! God bless!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Birthday Jesus!!

Times change and the years go by...but the promise of Christmas ALWAYS remains!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!!!

But more importantly, Happy Birthday Jesus!

Today we celebrate the very first miracle ever-- the birth of Jesus!! The day that changed the world and our lives forever!

The beauty of the Christmas season always reminds me of all of the many blessings and beautiful things I have in my life to be thankful  for. At the top of that list are the faithful prayers, love and support that have sustained me and my family through the past 8 years of my illness. 

As I sit here right now, smelling my mom's amazing cooking, listening to Christmas music, surrounded by my family and my sweet little dog Molly running around in her little Santa outfit, I have to almost pinch myself because it is so hard to believe that this is my life. It is such a blessing to be creating new Christmas memories... as well as re-creating old ones :) God is so good! 

I apologize for not keeping this blog updated. Time seems to move very fast... And I get so busy enjoying my new healthy life that time to write seems to completely escape me! However, I know a lot of people follow my story of hope, and I still want to share all of the incredible blessings, and continued miracles with you all...so, expect a lengthy update coming in the New Year :) 

All of the glory,honor and praise for every part of my recovery belongs directly to the birthday boy, my healer, savior and redeemer, Jesus Christ! It is mind blowing to think that the Holy God who created everything chose to enter our world, as a baby, to share in our troubles, simply because He loves us and wants us to come home to Him! Incredible love, incredible God! 

I know it sounds cliche, but we must not forget the reason for the season! Jesus is the most precious and greatest gift of all!

My prayer is simply that we strive to love and adore Him like it's Christmas everyday!

"For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,  Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

In Jesus' great power & love,

Jessica & The Stevens Family

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's RSD Awareness Month!

November is national RSD Awareness month.

RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy) is the crippling neurologic disorder that tried, very hard, to steal my life away from me; keeping me paralyzed in a hospital bed, with seizures & in horrific burning pain, unable to move or eat for nearly 6 years.

RSD a chronic, progressive, debilitating neurological disorder that occurs in response to an inury or illness, after which the nervous system malfunctions—causing nerves to misfire and send constant pain signals back to the brain, essentially, shutting parts of the body down.

When left undiagnosed and untreated, intractable pain and other disabling symptoms occur, including extreme sensitivity to touch, lights and sounds, severe headaches, numbness, weakness, movement disorder, paralysis, ulcerative skin lesions, seizures and softening of the bones. In its later stages, RSD can lead to internal organ dysfunction and cardiac complications. Patients may become unable to digest food, maintain stable levels of blood pressure or regulate their body temperature. RSD can ultimately ravage the entire body and its organs.

On the medically accepted McGill Pain Scale, where zero equals no pain, and fifty equals the most intense pain, RSD is ranked as a 46/50-- making it the most painful disease known to medicine!

RSD is ranked higher than pain from a bone fracture (20), cancer (24), childbirth (32) and even above amputation (38)!

Imagine if every touch cut like a knife, every breeze felt like a blow torch and even a gentle hug caused you to feel as if you were being electrocuted, if every pain medication available to you was completely ineffective?

That is what RSD feels like. And it is horrific.

Well-meaning people have said over the years, "God only gives you what you can handle...He knew you were so strong!" ... That's a nice sentiment, but it's simply not true.

On all fronts, this battle has been sooo much bigger than me, far beyond what I could ever handle, way beyond my own strength....but it has never been bigger than God.

I am so thankful for the healing power of Jesus displayed through the wisdom and knowledge of Dr. Fernando Cantu & Dr. Luis Barrientos, who saved my life! I am so thankful for my family who fought by my side, and I am so grateful for the many prayers that sustained me.

Every day that I wake up without that pain and those symptoms, I still nearly cry from shock and happiness. :)

I am blessed to be in remission... but there is still NO CURE for this horrible disease. There are a lot of people still suffering, with no way out.

I also still live with uncertainties about the future... Will I ever walk again? Stay in remission? Live a long healthy life?

Those are questions bigger than me, but again, not too big for God. I believe with my entire being that the answer to my questions is 'yes', but no matter what the future holds, I will be okay, because I know I will have Jesus' strength in my weakness, 

If someone would have told me 3 years ago, as I lay in a bed like this, that one day I would be well, out of that bed, pain free, able to eat, swim, go to school and enjoy my life... I never would have believed them. 

I want that feeling of joy I feel each morning to become a reality for all RSD sufferers.

So I am making this post as a reminder to please pray for them, that they will experience healing, peace and comfort. RSD is often called the "suicide disease", because so many patients lose hope, they don't see another option. They are tired of the pain. I lost my dear friend John this past year, and it is the most devastating and helpless feeling. 

We need awareness. We need research into the causes/triggers for this disease, We need physicians to begin recognizing ketamine infusion therapy as the standard of care in treating this disease, and for insurance companies to cover the costs, but above all of that, we need a long lasting cure. That is my ultimate prayer.

Never lose hope... 

"And nothing formed against me shall stand." (Isaiah 54:17)

To learn more, watch the following. Awareness is key! Thank you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

New York, New York!!!!

/Who says you can't go back?
Been all around the world and as a matter of fact
There's only one place left, I want to go
Who says you can't go home?/ Bon Jovi

It is commonly said that, "you can't go back home."

Well, as far as I'm concerned, that's a lie; because my week back home in NY was one of the best weeks of my new life!!! ( I know I say/write that a lot... But it's always true!)

Where do I even begin?!?!

So many stories, so many people, so much laughter and tears of happiness...so much praise to Jesus for the miracle He has done...it's going to be a hard experience to put into words, but I am going to try.

To start with, for those of you unfamiliar with NY; Garden City, my hometown, is a village in Nassau County, New York. It was founded by multi-millionaire Alexander Turney Stewart in 1869, and is located on Long Island, to the east of New York City, 18.5 miles from Manhattan. The village was originally created as an upscale community for those seeking respite from New York City.

The entire town is only 5 square miles. It is a quaint, picturesque place to raise a family and many people who live in the village have lived there for generations (my dad's parents lived in GC, my dad was born and raised in GC, as were we) The major landmarks of the town include the Garden City Hotel, St. Paul's school, 7th Street (center town shopping area), the local library and the Garden City country club.

Garden City, in a word, is beautiful. You can tell you are driving into GC from surrounding towns immediately just by the beautiful greenery, lush landscapes, large yards and old victorian and colonial style estates.

Surrounding towns refer to Garden City as 'the bubble' because they get the impression people living in GC are somewhat sheltered from the outside world inside of it. And maybe that's a little bit true; but whoever said that was a bad thing?! ;)

Last Tuesday, as I drove around GC for the first time in over 7 years, I was amazed at how much looked exactly the same as I left it!

Garden City is truly timeless... Really, as far as I could tell, not much had changed at all during the years I was sick/gone. Yes, some of the homes appear to have gotten some major renovations, and many of the 100yr old trees that used to line the streets were uprooted when hurricane Sandy blew through around this time, last year. Oh, and TCBY, a landmark on 7th street added delicious self-serve yogurt selections :) But other than that, my little sweet hometown of Garden City remained untainted; unchanged.

The first thing I wanted to do when we entered GC was drive by my childhood home! We have so many great memories in this house! Katherine, Michelle and I all came home from the hospital to this house, and my beloved dog Molly, too!

It still looks exactly the same! I could almost hear my sisters and the neighborhood kids playing on our old swing set in the backyard! Talk about a trip down memory lane!

The second thing I wanted to do was check out Roosevelt Field, one of the largest shopping malls in the US, conveniently located .8 miles from my old home! I spent most of my younger teenage years walking this mall with my friends, so it was really great to go back there!

We ate delicious, thin crust, NY pizza for lunch, and it was out of this world, amazing! There are just some things that only taste good in NY- and pizza, and bagels are among them!

That night we ate our first official NY dinner of the trip with our beloved, amazing friends Cecilia and Jimmy. The story of Cecilia and Jimmy could be another blog post on its own. They hold a most special place in  our lives, and they are also parents to one of my Molly's puppies!

I got to see and hold 3 of Molly's 4 puppies over the course of my trip! They all have a piece of her in them! It's so cool to see!

The next day we took a very important trip upstate to Westchester, NY to surprise someone very special to me- Dr. Kenneth Liegner.

 Dr. Liegner was my main physician in NY, who cared for me for nearly 3 years while I was rapidly declining and nothing was helping to stop the progression of my condition, which was still undiagnosed at the time. Those were some of  my worst moments and it was a very dark time. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt it was this man's devotion to my case, and his persistence in sending me to see various specialists for opinions, that kept me alive long enough to make it to Mexico for my life-saving treatment. I am forever grateful to him for the big part he played in my miracle and my trip to NY wouldn't have been complete without letting him see--in person-- my miraculous recovery!

I wanted this visit to be a surprise, so my mom arranged with the ladies in his office, Veronica, Dawn and Debbie, to block out his schedule for the afternoon so I could surprise him!

As I sat in his office waiting room, I could faintly hear his familiar, reassuring voice comforting another patient in one of his treatment rooms. I had flashbacks to the many times he comforted me, promising not to give up on me until we found answers. He would always tell me, "Remember- where there is life, there is hope."

Soon the voice got closer, he looked out into the waiting room and stared right at me.

I started positioning myself to get ready to hug him... But he turned around and walked away from me!

He walked over to his front desk ladies and said, "who is the patient in my waiting room? I don't have any other patients scheduled for today."

He didn't recognize me!!!

"Ask her who she is," Veronica replied.

He then turned and saw my mom and his mouth dropped, and hung open for a few seconds! He was shocked and sooo happy! He came over and gave me a huge hug!

"You look amazing. Oh my Gosh, incredible... I can't believe it. Wow." were his words. :)

We spent the next 2 hours catching him up on all of the events of the past 4 years and sharing all of the medical details of my ordeal in Mexico with him.

Dr. Liegner couldn't say enough kind words about Dr. Cantu, and how he admires him as a physician for how he went "out of the box" to save my life.

I gave him a picture of Cerro de la silla, the mountain in Monterrey, that had the words he always told me written on it- "Where there is life; there is hope."

It was such a joyful reunion!!! And such a blessing to spend time with this incredible man in happiness and health!

On the way home, I asked mom if we could please stop to eat in my favorite childhood diner in Carle Place, which she gladly agreed to! It was just as good as I remembered it!!

The next morning we got up early to prepare for a crazy busy day of visits around town!

The morning started off at our dear friend Angel's house, where she was going to be having a rosary/prayer meeting. The ladies in her prayer group from St. Joseph's Church had prayed for my healing every week together for the past 5 years!!!

None of the ladies knew I would be joining them in prayer that morning, so as each one of them walked into Angel's house, there were lots of hugs and tears to see how amazingly their devoted prayers had been answered! It was very special!

We gave each of the ladies hand-made Mexican rosaries that were donated to us by my Mexican grandparents (Dr. Rainbow & her husband, Manuel) to hand out to my many prayer warriors in New York.

After Angel's house, we proceeded over to visit Pastor Browning at his home. The last time Pastor Browning had seen me was in the fall of 2009, when he came from NY to visit and pray over me in Mexico. When he visit, I was in one of the worst conditions I had ever been in. I had lost my vision, and couldn't see anything. I was having seizures again, and medications were not controlling them . Doctors weren't sure I'd ever see again. He came at the worst possible time, but in a spiritual realm- I know he was right on time.

Pastor Browning held bedside vigil and was an amazing support to my mom, and offered up so many prayers on my behalf.

When he saw me at his house, he was also so shocked and so incredibly happy!

I went to hug him and he hesitantly and slowly hugged me back, saying "Are you sure? Can I hug you without hurting you?"

The last time he saw me, I couldn't even tolerate a blanket touching my skin without screaming in horrific pain, so it made perfect sense he was afraid.

In response to his question, I grabbed him tight and said, "I don't know how to ever thank you."

Once inside I had the pleasure of seeing Amber, Pastor's wife, their two beautiful little daughters and also, Nathan, vicar of the church who has become a great friend and who I have mentioned before.

It was really amazing to see Pastor Browning in the role he was definitely born to play-- dad.

His two little girls, Anastasia and Cecelia (who is only 2 weeks old!) are soooo precious! I loved getting to spend some time with them!

Earlier that morning, a police escort had delivered a special letter to Pastor's house with my name on it. It was all stamped "police delivery" and looked very official.

My first thought was "ohhh no!"... See, the day before when we went to Roosevelt Field, all of the spots were taken, so we kinda made our own spot and double parked.

I was certain it was a ticket! "This is so typical of GC to track us down!" I jokingly told my mom.

However, when I opened the letter, I realized how wrong I was! It was a "Welcome Home" letter from the Mayor of Garden City, John Watras! He wrote me a personal letter welcoming me back to my hometown! It was so thoughtful of him and a gesture I never expected, but really appreciated!

After our visit with the Browning s  we headed over to my mom's best friend Pat's house, where she was hosting a welcome home luncheon in honor of mom and I! It was so wonderful to see and hug all of our old neighbors and friends! I felt sorry for poor Pat, because the luncheon that was supposed to be from 1-3 ended up lasting until 8pm! It was a revolving door of friends, food, hugs and tears, and it was a wonderful welcome back! My old nurses, Miriam and Minnie stopped over to see me and were shocked by the transformation!

Finally, we ended the day back at Angel's house for dinner, where she made me my favorite thing- Salmon! :) So, I was very happy!!

The next day was Saturday and I would be speaking at church during the 5:30pm service that night. However, during the day, there were some very special people I had to meet and thank in person.

The Klatt family- Wayne, Renee, Gen and Isabel, were my little sister Michelle's surrogate family while my mom and dad were so preoccupied taking care of me. If you ask Michelle, she will tell you her time spent with the Klatt's were the happiest moments of her life during the 7 years I was sick. They provided her with a sense of normalcy and stability, that due to our situation, was non existent in our home. Gen Klatt is Michelle's best friend and after spending an afternoon with them, I can see why. After just a few hours talking and laughing it was as if I had known them forever. They are some of the nicest people in the world and I don't blame Michelle for wanting to be adopted by them! :) I would too! Haha

The Klatt's weren't only there for Michelle, but for me as well. When we found out the ketamine coma in Mexico was my last hope for survival, Wayne enlisted the help of his co-workers in Manhattan to fundraise for me, and ended up raising significant funds to help make my recovery a reality... All of that, without ever having met me. That blows my mind and really, there are no words, except to say, I am forever grateful. I love you guys!

Around 5pm we headed over toward my hometown church, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection. This was the first time I had been back in this church in over 7 years!! This is the church where I was baptized as a baby, attended pre-school as a child and made my communion and confirmation!

Rolling through the chapel, before the crowds came in, and looking up at the beautiful altar and crucifix, I truly felt at home. In the very chapel where my parents introduced me to Christ as a child, now, to be back here preparing to speak about the miracle He has done in my life... Was a bit overwhelming  to say the least! I sat by the altar for a while, with no words, just a heart bursting with thanks.

(*The beautiful stole Pastor is wearing was handmade for him in Mexico, as a gift!)

Pastor Browning, Pastor Harmon and the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection have literally been Jesus' hands and feet to my family and I throughout my illness. From making meals, driving me to doctors appointments, to driving my parents back and forth to visit me when I was in NYC hospitals, to fundraising to make my treatment possible, and so many other things, both big and small acts of love this congregation has poured out onto our little family... It's amazing, and I am so humbled at the thought of the support their showed us in our time of need.

Above all, the biggest of all of these things was the power of prayer. For 7 years, I remained at the top of the prayer list, and was carried, daily, to the foot of the cross for my complete healing.

During a lot of my illness, I was too weak/out of it, to pray. Knowing I had all of these amazing people interceding for me, praying when I couldn't put a thought together, or utter a word from my own mouth, means more to me than anything in the world.

◄ Luke 12:48 ►says, "To whom much is given; much is required."

My family and I have been given sooo much.

But how do you even begin to say thank you to people who helped save your life?

 I don't know the answer to that... There is no way to ever thank them, but I hope that by coming home, sharing my story, and letting each and every one of them see, touch and hug the living miracle they were such a big part of, can somehow express the eternal gratitude I have in my heart for them.

Saturday night services are contemporary- meaning, you can wear jeans and a t-shirt, a live worship band plays upbeat christian music on stage and the overall atmosphere is as relaxed and laid back as you can imagine.

I love this type of service! As the music selections played on Saturday night, the holy spirit was so present, that I am pretty sure the church must have been glowing from the outside!

Pastor Browning introduced me to the crowd and told the congregation a story. He said, "As some of you know, the last time I saw Jessica was in the fall of 2009, down at the hospital in Monterrey Mexico. At that time, her situation was bad... Really bad. Yesterday, I saw Jessica for the first time since than, and she said to me, "Pastor, tell me honestly, when you saw me in Mexico, did you think I would ever get better, and ever be back here in Garden City?" ... The honest answer to that question is, "No." I never thought Jessica would leave that hospital and I certainly couldn't imagine ever seeing her back in GC.... But that is the amazing God we serve, capable of doing more than we could ever ask or imagine!"

To get up onto the altar, after that intro, in the church I came to know and love Jesus in, was an entirely new God-feeling I don't have a name for... It just felt so right. It felt like everything was coming full circle. Like God was closing the chapter on the past 7 years of suffering and giving me a new beginning to use my story (well, really, His story)-for His glory.

After I spoke, Pastor came back on stage and said beautiful words about my mom. He told another story, one I didn't even know until now... Back when he visited us in Mexico, Dr. Cantu apparently pulled him aside and told him that he had to get my mom to leave my side, even if just for a few minutes, because it wasn't healthy for her to stay in my darkened room all of the time.

So, somehow, Pastor coaxed my mom to leave me and take a walk with him. They walked down the hall, past the nurses station, and into the lobby. They stood by a window, and looked out of it for about 45 seconds, then turned around and proceeded to come back to my room.

That was the first time my poor mom had left the room in over 3 months!

Pastor said that in all of his years of ministry, he has never seen God's unconditional love as boldly on display as he has witnessed in my mom and her devotion to me. He said when he see's her, he see's the face of Christ... And I have to agree with him 100% on that! She is amazing!

Another huge blessing was who was there with me on Saturday night. My godmother, my Aunt Carol, flew in to spend some days in NY with mom and I and hear me speak and our dear friend Rosemary, her daughter Kim and her sister Diane, drove 4 hours from Pennsylvania to come and see me!!!! Rosemary's husband, my dear friend, John, was a fellow RSD sufferer who we met during our time in Mexico and become very close with. We consider them family. Sadly, John lost his battle with RSD this past May. Words can't explain how much it meant to me that they came to share in this special night with me, even in the midst of their ongoing grief. I wish John was there physically with them too, but I know in spirit, he was right up in the front row with his beautiful family.

After I spoke Saturday night a large group of us went out for family style Italian food, which was incredible!

Sunday morning I was back to church for both services at 8:30&11am. The youth group from Resurrection, who had attended the National Youth Gathering in San Antonio, got up on stage and gave a brief run down of their experiences, and told the congregation how I had spoken at the gathering and my speech was the highlight of their trip (so sweet!) They presented me with a "LiveLoved" banner; signed by all of them! It was so thoughtful and I will cherish it forever!

As I prepared to speak on Sunday, I was shocked by how many people were in attendance!  I went to that church for most of my life and I had never seen so many people packed into the chapel. Especially, so many familiar faces!! My high school friends, Mary, Brittany, Bryn & Jenna were there, which was so great! And so many faces I recognized as people from my childhood!

I got up on stage and introduced myself, and told brief background about my journey. Then a 25 minute video slideshow of pictures of my journey set to contemporary christian music played, and then it was time to speak....

When I speak, I usually have an outline in my mind of what I want to say, so I don't get overwhelmed or say 'um or like' too many times. In the past, this method has worked well for me, as I have a photographic memory.

Well, on Sunday morning, I couldn't retrieve my outline from my mind's eye. I panicked for a second, and then started to speak, words I did not prepare, straight from my heart to the congregation that helped save my life.

 25 minutes later, with very little recollection of what I had just said, my speech was over, and everyone was standing, clapping, crying and lining up to hug me.

I know God took over my mouth for those 25 minutes, with His words that He wanted shared. And I am so glad He did!

Pastor ended up adding another service, after the 11am, so I could speak again and share witness to the mighty God we serve.

It was such an honor to be at my church all weekend! My favorite part by far though, was talking one on one with members of the congregation after the services. I love nothing more than to share God-incidences with others and everybody has a story, that is for sure! I feel blessed God has put me in a position where people open up to me like they do!

Monday, we had a few more visits with friends and then there was another surprise visit I had to make; to another very special doctor who was instrumental in keeping me alive during my time in NY. Dr. Finkelstein, is another one of my angels I have been blessed to have in my life. He went way above and beyond for me, including traveling to my home (even on Christmas eve!) to save me the pain of having to travel by ambulance to his office! He always made sure I was kept as comfortable as possible, with whatever medications he could offer. He is one of the most gentle and compassionate doctors I have ever known.

When he saw me on Monday, he cried.

Dr. Finkelstein always told me that I was his 'mitzvah'- which from what I understand, in the Jewish faith, a mitzvah is a worthy, good deed that is considered a commandment given by God. He said helping me was his mitzvah, and now by my coming back to visit, he became mine.

It was another beautiful, truly special reunion!

On our way back from Dr. Finkelstein's office, we made another special stop. We visited the gravesites of my Uncle Charlie and Grandpa Sal and left the flowers that the church had blessed and given to me as a gift the day before there.

Monday night I had the blessing of getting to say thank you to a very special group of guys, without whose help, my recovery would not have been possible either: My 'brothers' at the Garden City Fire Department!!

I have to admit, I was a little nervous when I was wheeled into a board room of about 100 guys, 2 or 3 of whom looked familiar to me. But they quickly made me feel very welcome when they all stood up and applauded as I rolled in!

I wasn't sure how my video would be received outside of a church setting, but it was the most perfect way to show them the depths of my gratitude for the miracle that they too were a part of. The firemen sat in silence during the entire video, and many of them were moved to tears.

After the video, I said a few words about how my dad originally joined the fire department 20 years ago to get away from his girl-filled house, as he was in desperate need of some male bonding and a place he could be a 'guy' and burp and fart without judgement... He was also seriously concerned that if he spent any more time surrounded by woman, he might become one ;)

All kidding aside, I know my dad never envisioned the brotherhood that the GCFD truly is and the deep, lifelong relationships that he would form there.

When I was sick, the GCFD mobilized into action, making sure we had all of our needs met and taken care of. Need a car? Your FD brothers are on it. Have a doctors appt? They arrange a ride. Need someone to move all of your family's belongings across town, including a heavy hospital bed and a ton of medical supplies and equipment? Great! No problem; the GCFD brothers have your back! Fundraising to get your dying daughter to Mexico for an experimental treatment? check!

There is seriously nothing these guys didn't, or wouldn't, do for their fellow brothers. And to think, all they ever got in return was some cold beers and maybe a meal. Yet, they never expected anything in return. It's just who they are. It's inspiring.

That is exactly why it was so important for me to make it back to the Fire Department and thank Chief Castoro and all of these amazing guys in person for their love and support!

Yet, in typical GCFD fashion... They ended up doing something, yet again, for ME.

Assistant Chief Gallo wheeled me over to a table and proceeded to shower me with gifts! All of the guys signed a GCFD t-shirt for me! They gave me an awesome GCFD jacket! And here is the coolest part- I became an 'honorary' ex-captain of the Fire Department! They gave me an official badge, lapel pins and everything!!!

As if that were not enough, chief Gallo handed me a special medallion, one that is only given out of firemen who exhibit exemplary service (like saving someone from a burning building) and he told me it was for me, because what I had to endure was the ultimate fire.

Wow. Talk about blown away! I was so touched!

Tuesday was our last full day in New York and the only day I didn't have pre-arranged plans to accomplish. My mom told me I could pick anything I wanted to do, and we would do it.

Of course, I immediately chose to go into New York City for the day and explore like a tourist!!

Our dear friend Pat drove us into the city, and our adventure began! It was a little bit chilly for this Mexico/Florida girl (52 degrees!) so my new GCFD jacket came in handy!

We started the adventure by taking a NYC taxi cab from where we had parked up to 42nd street/Times square.

By the look of these pictures you are about to see, you would never, ever, guess that this is a NY born and bred girl who lived here for the first 16 years of her life...You would assume I was from some remote small town in the mid-west, seeing the 'big city' for the first time in her life....

However, I decided that I was going to fully, embarrassingly, enjoy the city, as if for the first time, like a tourist!

And that, I did! And it was awesome!

I saw Times square! And Radio City music hall! I ate lunch at the Rock Cafe in Rockefellar Center! I went by the UN building! The empire state building! I went in Toys R Us and rode on the giant ferris wheel! (they even had a handicap accessible swing!) yay! I went into Saks 5th Avenue! And of course, into all of the touristy type over-priced shoppes that all tourists must fall victim to! I took pictures with New York City's finest and posed for pictures in front of every tourist trap we passed by! It was wonderful!

My last stop was a high priority on my list- St. Patricks Cathedral.

I had been there on many school field trips as a kid and was always blown away by it's size, it's beauty and it's history.

I was shocked to see it under such major renovations! I am sure it will look magnificent when it is complete, but for now, it's a bit chaotic to go inside.

But, I really wanted to light a few candles and say a prayer of thanks at the giant altar, so construction or not, inside we went!

The stained glass is still some of the most beautiful I've ever seen and the different crosses and statues displayed throughout remain unharmed by the chaos.

I lit a few candles and said prayers in front of Jesus, the healer's altar, for my friends suffering from RSD. 

Nino Cantu, my faithful companion and teddy bear, lit one in front of the Virgin de Guadalupe- the Patron Saint of Monterrey, Mexico, as a symbol of thanks and gratitude for all of the hands and feet he had watching over me down there! Yo amo Monterrey!

Speaking of Nino Cantu, he had a little too much fun exploring NYC!! ;)

I had such a great day! I will never forget it.

I never, ever in a billion years thought that days like this would be possible for me! My idea of 'recovery' included being in less pain, able to eat a bit, and maybe leave my room once and a while without lights and sounds causing seizures.

To be out and about, traveling home, enjoying every minute of my life, is still so shocking to me. I sometimes worry that maybe I am still asleep in one of my coma's and any day now, I will wake up and the past several months will just have been a ridiculously good dream.

For the past year I have told my family that I will not truly feel like my homecoming, or my recovery, is complete until I make it back up to Garden City, my hometown, and share my miracle in person with everyone there whose love, support, donations, and most importantly, prayers, made my recovery possible.

And now, I can say with a big smile on my face... I made it HOME!

My recovery is real; it is complete. And if I am still in a coma, don't wake me up :)

Thank you, beautiful town of Garden City, for the warm welcome home! I promise to not stay away for long... I may have already looked up flights for May, when my school ends and the weather starts getting warmer up there :) I'd love to come spend a few weeks enjoying everyone. If it's God's plan, I will be back very soon!

God bless and thanks for reading and sharing in this amazing experience with me!

Forever grateful,

/It doesn't matter where you are, doesn't matter where you go/
If it's a million miles away or just a mile up the road/
Take it in, take it with you when you go/
Who says you can't go home?/ Bon Jovi

 “...Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19

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Jessica's Journey to Getting Her Life Back

By Sarah Gina (Jessica's Mom)

As we begin this journey toward renewed health we would like to express our sincere heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick and all the work he has done and continues to do in order to bring patients like my daughter Jessica back to a more meaningful life and restored from this devastating illness. Also, special thanks to Dr. Fernando Cantu and his team of doctors in Mexico for taking on a difficult case like my daughters, Words cannot express the renewed sense of hope that we have that one day, our Jessica, can regain her life that has been taken away from her – God Bless you all!

Jessica’s Story

Once an A+ student who loved school, was involved in many extracurricular activities, played varsity tennis, lacrosse and gymnastics and enjoyed spending time with her family and friends, our daughter Jessica has spent the last 3 years incapacitated, paralyzed, unable to sit or walk and eat. She spends her days confined to a hospital bed, wearing sunglasses and noise-canceling headphones, due to severe light and sound sensitivity.

Jessica and her sisters, 2 mos. before becoming ill

The pain she feels is indescribable and all attempted treatments have not even come close to relieving her suffering.

She has seen many doctors, undergone numerous painful tests and procedures, has been prescribed various medications, and has been hospitalized frequently including being intubated and on a ventilator. She is severely debilitated and currently is only 92 pounds. This is certainly no life for a 21 year old young woman!

Jessica is suffering from neurologic Lyme disease and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a severely debilitating and painful neuromuscular disorder. She suffers daily with constant sharp, stabbing, tingling and burning pain; throughout her body; severe headaches; paralysis; intense muscle spasms; gastroparesis; seizures; twisting of her limbs (dystonia); sensitivity to any touch (allodynia); extreme sensitivity to lights and sounds; excessive sweating; swelling; fevers; softening of bones; decreased hair growth; redness and discoloration of the limbs; and painful skin ulcers. The pain is constant and unrelenting, but despite her suffering, her faith in God remains and she still has hope for her future.

Jessica's painful skin lesions

Jessica's journey began in 1999, when she was only 11 years old. She became very ill with Mono and was bed bound for 3 months. She subsequently developed RSD (stage 1) of the lower right leg. She received early intervention and returned to playing sports and enjoying her life.

Jessica, age 15, at summer camp

Four years later, in 2003, while away at a sleep-away camp, she developed a rash behind her right knee, coincidentally in the same leg that previously had RSD!

At the time, the camps nurse & doctor told her that it was “duck rash” – a rash from swimming in the lake with duck feces. However, Jessica was able to obtain photos from camp from another camper which shows the classic “bulls-eye” rash from Lyme disease! It wasn’t until much later and only after developing symptoms and becoming very ill, was the diagnosis of Lyme disease and Babesiosis (another tick-borne infection) made.

Most people (and doctors!) have no idea how serious Lyme disease can become and no clue how to properly diagnose it. Unfortunately, if she would have been promptly diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease, the RSD would not have been triggered and she would not be suffering.

July 2003, Jessica's Lyme disease rash

If it wasn’t for her doctor, Dr. Liegner, and his expertise with complex cases of Lyme, and his determination to try any means in getting her well, by getting a “team” of doctors on her case, we wouldn’t be here today, still fighting. We owe him a deep sense of gratitude for all he does for Jessica!

During these past three years and with the pain becoming more intense and unbearable she has been seeing Dr. Finkelstein for pain management. He has even made house calls to spare her the pain of coming by ambulance to his office. Jessica has been treated with multiple pain medications, at the highest possible doses, as well as an implanted dilaudid pain pump, which delivers potent medication straight into her spine. Many doctors have told us that with the amount of medications Jessica was taking would be enough to “kill a horse”—yet they had little to no effect on her. If it wasn’t for Dr. Finkelstein trying to alleviate her constant, severe, unrelenting pain, I don’t know how she would have managed. He is very special to us as well.

Recently Jessica was transported by air ambulance to Tampa, Florida to see Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, a world renowned RSD expert. Dr. Kirkpatrick told us that Jessica is one of the most debilitated patients he has ever seen.

Jessica getting into the air-ambulance to go see Dr. Kirkpatrick

Upon his testing and because Jessica's condition is so severe, Dr. Kirkpatrick is recommending the only treatment available that can possibly help relieve her suffering, and afford her some semblance of a “normal” life - the Ketamine Coma Procedure - a clinical trial that is being conducted in Monterrey, Mexico.

During this procedure Jessica will be put into a coma , with the hope that her nerves, brain and spinal cord will “reset” -so that her nervous system sends the correct signals to her brain.

Yes, this is a radical, scary treatment, however, for Jessica, "scary" is thinking that she could spend the rest of her life in this condition, unable to walk, eat, or take care of herself. Since all reasonable treatments have failed to help her, we feel we must try everything possible to help Jessica regain her life.

We understand that due to Jessica’s fragile condition, there is a high risk associated with this procedure. We are also aware that other patients with severe RSD like Jessica's have had success.

Jessica’s goal is to one day become a doctor. Our hope is that with this study she can have that chance. As her Mom, I know that she will be a great doctor because when a patient presents in her office and says “Doctor, I am in pain and words cannot express how bad it is” – my daughter –Dr. Jessica– will be able to say - :I know how you feel, I’ve been there too. So, take a seat and let me tell you a story”….

We are so thankful and feel so blessed to have been led to Dr. Kirkpatrick.

God is good and with his help guiding Dr. Cantu and Dr. Kirkpatrick, our hope is for Jessica to be able to return to us whole again and pain-free!