Paula with her granddaughter and holding a pencil drawing of the “Breath of Heaven.”

Paula with her granddaughter and holding a pencil drawing of the “Breath of Heaven.”

Her Story:

My journey through the shadow of the valley of death began in 2006 I had acid reflux for 20 years but it had gotten severe. I could not eat solids, so I existed on protein shakes. I would be walking the floors all night and vomiting, which caused me to be weak and dehydrated.

My husband Tom and I had started our business in 2004 (Haider Glass Specialties). My illness caused me to miss work a lot. The burden was great for Tom as he had to carry on. We didn’t want to lose public confidence in our business so we didn’t let on that I was sick. We would say I was unavailable for the moment.

I started vomiting blood in the spring. I had tests done and they found a mass in my stomach. I was urged to have surgery right away. My daughter was getting married in August and I was not going to let anything ruin that for her, so I kept this news a secret. On July 4th my stomach was so bad, I thought I would die that day. How can I get through this? Courtney was married August 4th and I told my husband after the reception that I had to have surgery August 8th. I had the mass removed and the doctor said he had never seen anything like it. My stomach was filled with grape-like clusters. The next day I had a Nissen Fundoplication, which wraps the stomach around the esophagus to prevent acid from rising. I awoke from that surgery with unbearable pain. I asked for more pain medication and was told the amount given should be enough for my pain. It didn’t even dull it.

This unendurable pain lasted three years. I couldn’t sleep, eat or function. Shortly after surgery, everything I ate or drank went right through me, sometimes to the extent of incontinence. I worked whenever I could. On good days, I would try to make up for what I had missed. Our daughter, Courtney, was running the office and she and Tom carried a heavy burden. So very much to do at work, 10-12+ hour days. They worried about me, but they had to keep the company going. Our son was working out of state at the time and I didn’t want him to know the extent of what I was going through.

During this time I had many tests to try and find what could be causing this pain, to no avail. I did whatever I could to help the pain. Pain medication, alcohol, Benadryl, and Ambien to help me sleep but nothing took the pain away. Remember, everything went right through me. This was good and bad. The bad was that I didn’t get any pain relief but the good was that nothing stayed in me long enough to cause addiction.

We work in the construction business and I am the creative half of our team. My job entails going out to construction sites and designing projects. Many times this is out of town or in areas that did not have public restrooms. I started having panic attacks worrying that I may have an accident while with a customer on a job site. These became severe. From the fall of 2008 to spring of 2009 I was mostly house bound. I made an appointment to council with my minister. I knew that if this pain was going to last the rest of my life I had to learn to accept it, even be thankful for it somehow. He asked if I felt close to God. I said, ‘Satan tells me every moment that I am a burden to my family and they would be so much better without me.’ I didn’t feel suicidal but I could see my family without me. Looking back I see one set of footprints in the sand. Jesus carried me through. He carries me now.

We are very active in the Bismarck-Mandan Homebuilder’s Association. While on the 50th Anniversary committee I became friends with Bonnie Gerhardt. She quickly realized something was not right with me and made it her personal goal to help get me better.

My daughter Courtney was pregnant and due to have her baby in August of 2009. She carried so much worry with her: the business, how was she going to go on maternity leave, would I live to see her baby born? Bonnie called Courtney everyday to comfort and support her. She researched for any means to help me get better. Bonnie spent Easter that year with family and friends. One of those friends was
Dr. Gordon Leingang. She shared my story with him and he suggested I see a new GI doctor in town, so I did. He ran tests and said I needed extensive reconstruction surgery on my stomach. This was eight weeks before Courtney was due to have her baby.

I had the surgery, woke up and there was surgical pain, but THE PAIN was gone. I was told the vagus nerve had been pinched and was causing the severe pain. I was in the hospital for 10 days and went home feeling good. A couple of weeks later Courtney was having her baby shower. I woke up that day in severe pain. I couldn’t take a breath. I couldn’t miss this special moment for my daughter. I went to the shower and after went to the ER. The pain was from fluid on my heart and lungs. I was in the hospital another 10 days. I got out just days before my granddaughter was born. Courtney was going to have a c-section and had shared that she may not be the first one to hold the baby. I assured her that she would be. When the time came for Courtney and Kennedy to be brought into her room Courtney kept asking me to pick up the baby. I said she should hold her first. Courtney said, “Pick her up mom”. I picked up this gift from God and held her up to my face. She breathed out and I breathed in, the Breath of Heaven. I had renewed strength, the Holy Spirit filled each cell of my body. I knew in that instant I was healed. My favorite son-in-law caught the moment in a picture and Courtney had it recreated in a pencil drawing for Mother’s Day this year.

I still have some of the issues I dealt with and I still have panic attacks whenever those issues arise, thinking, ‘oh dear, it’s all back again.’ But, I know that I have been healed. The journey was long, the pain was intense. But, I learned that suffering builds character, character brings hope, hope leads us to God. I don’t see myself as a survivor; I have gone from surviving to thriving. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.