Walking by Faith: The Story of Andrew DeVries
Athletics had always been the most important thing in my life. In fact, at the age of fifty-five, standing at six foot six, he had just tried out for Michigan’s senior men’s Olympic volleyball team, and there was a good chance he would make it.
Then the tragedy happened. In a motorcycle accident, I shattered my left leg. The doctors prescribed amputation. Before surgery, while lying in his hospital bed discussing with family and friends what life would be like without a leg, a young medical assistant named Sarah Scholl said, “Andy, what kind of golf balls do you play?”
That was a stupid question, but I said, “Titleist Pro V1.” The next morning, next to my bed was a 12-pack of Titleist Pro V1 golf balls. Sarah’s gift gave me a glimmer of hope.
When I woke up after the operation, I was surprised to look down and see two legs and ten toes. Fortunately, the doctors had decided that my leg had enough circulation to try to save it. But months of rehabilitation awaited him. In a subsequent operation, I nearly died on the table.
When it was time to transfer me to a rehabilitation hospital, Sarah took me to the ambulance. “I have a favor to ask of you,” she said. “My father died some time ago. When I get married, I want you to walk me down the aisle.”
“Sarah, it’s doubtful I’ll ever walk anywhere. Besides, you don’t even have a boyfriend.”
“Someday I will,” he said.
Hope and love
At the rehab hospital, where I had pretty much reconciled to living the rest of my life in a wheelchair, I got a call from John Wilder, my volleyball coach. “Congratulations Andy, you made the team! You’re playing in the Senior Olympics.”
I told him about my accident and waited for him to say that he would miss having me on the team. But Wilder surprised me: “You get better. I’ll play you if you can stand up.”
His words ignited a spark. I went to rehab with a vengeance. Seven months later I was able to apply for the Senior Olympic Games. Although he could barely stand, John kept his word: he put me in the game.
When it was my turn to serve, I looked over at my wife, Kay, sitting in the bleachers. She usually avoided my sporting events. I couldn’t blame her; I had always put sports before her in my life. But today Kay wasn’t just there, she was beaming. As she looked at her beaming smile, I lost her, right there on the court. I suddenly understood why God had allowed this accident. He cared a lot about our marriage.
I picked myself up enough to serve. We won that game and the next one. As the competition intensified, the coach had to take me out, but our team won the gold medal.
life from death
Back home, my health continued to improve. Then all of a sudden my liver stopped working. In major surgery, doctors got around it with a bypass. That saved my life, but the unfiltered blood that reached my brain caused my hands to shake so violently that I had to sit on them. I applied for a liver transplant and waited.
A year passed, then two. No call from the transplant hospital. How do you pray for a transplant? For me to live, someone else had to die. What makes me better than someone else’s husband or someone else’s father?
One day it occurred to me that it wasn’t the first time that someone needed to die so that I could live. Jesus had done that for me. If God loved me that much, he could trust him with my future.
In what seemed like a divinely inspired conversation, Kay and I learned that Indiana had twice as many registered organ donors as Michigan. So we rented an apartment in Indianapolis and applied for a transplant. Two months later we received a call: a man had died in an accident; I was one of ten transplant candidates who would benefit.
through the valley
The speed of my recovery amazed the doctors. For the first time in five years I subscribed to a magazine under my name. But I pushed too hard on rehab. While doing crunches, I tore the incision in my abdominal muscles. During the emergency surgery, the doctors placed a mesh inside my abdomen and sewed the muscles into place. A tube was inserted through my nose into my stomach to pump fluids.
After the surgery, I had to sit on the bed in a position without moving and without eating. Time passed so slowly that the second The clock hand seemed to have stopped. One day dragged by… two days… three days… how much longer would this agony last? I have never felt so hopeless and miserable.
Around 4:00 am on the fourth night – the longest night of my life – I cried out to God: “Lord, take me! I can’t take it anymore.” Kay was at my side, where she had been faithfully since my accident. She muttered, “Me neither.” At that point, Kay and I completely gave up. We were at the absolute bottom of the valley, the blackest hole we could imagine.
Fifteen minutes later, our surgeon unexpectedly walked into the room and said, “I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like something had changed.” He checked my vital signs. We can remove the tube. By the end of that day I was walking. A month later, I went back to work full time.
Jumping and walking for joy
My left leg had no nerves, so I thought my volleyball days were over. But my exercise therapist had an idea. He tied my knees and ankles so that I could jump rope. I worked up to two jumps…then six…then twenty! I was so excited that I called out to an old volleyball buddy: “Hey Tim, I can jump!”
“That’s great! We have a volleyball tournament in Milwaukee in two weeks. Come play?” It seemed like overkill, but two weeks later, at the last minute, I decided to go. When I showed up, my former teammates stood up and cheered. It was an emotional scene.
The first five games were tough, but in the sixth I got a perfect set and a legit kill. A few minutes later I blocked the game point. That taught me an important lesson: Don’t waste time wishing you could do the impossible. Do your best and sometimes the impossible happens.
After the game, I thanked my old coach, John Wilder, for inspiring me early on. “You’re the one who deserves the credit,” John said. “You never gave up.”
“Actually, John, I gave up, but God never gave up on me.”
In 2009, seven years after my accident, I received an email from Sarah Scholl: “I have a boyfriend, do you want to come?”
What a joy it was to walk, not in a wheelchair, but walking, Sarah down the hall.
Andy DeVries is director of development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A full journal of his journey is posted on caringbridge.org under the name “andydevries”.
His website has had more than 25,000 visits.
2011 Andy DeVries