By Cyndie Degnan
Michael David Degnan, our firstborn, arrived on August 10th 1977. He was the kind of baby who caused total strangers to stop, gasp, and comment on what a cute baby he was. He was well behaved on top of everything else, so to say we were proud parents was an understatement. We were downright obnoxious.
Very early on, we noticed he was extremely bright. Michael appeared to be sturdy, with beautiful blue eyes, and was of average height and weight. As time went on, however, it became obvious that he was struggling a bit physically to keep up with the other kids. The director at his pre-school mentioned that she had noticed that Michael had more trouble than most kids climbing all the steps up to the third floor of the school.
Then at Michael’s four-year-old physical, I asked the doctor about Michael’s tendency to stand with his belly sticking out and a little bit swaybacked. The doctor suggested that we take Michael for a series of tests.
Imagine our shock when the results came in several days later and showed an extremely elevated level of protein in his blood. When we went in to see the doctor, he told us that Michael had a disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I had seen the posters for MDA, so I concluded that maybe Michael would need braces to walk or might even lose his ability to walk at some point, but that was it. The idea that as this disease progressed, it would end in Michael’s total inability to move or breathe and would result in his death at a very young age, possibly 25 — that I could not deal with yet.
Cyndie and Rick prayed that God would spare Michael. In many ways, their prayers were answered. Although Michael was in a wheelchair from grade school on and served as the MDA poster child, he went on to learn to drive his specially equipped van and to graduate from high school and then from the Stevens Institute of Technology with his service dog, Flirt, at his side. Yet the biggest surprise of all was still to come. One summer when Michael was home, Cyndie went into his room to say goodnight . . .
“Guess what, Michael? Your friend is getting married next week!” Michael kind of blinked. After all, he was confined to a wheelchair, getting weaker all the time physically, and essentially wasting away before our very eyes—and let’s face it, his very eyes.
However, his next statement really caught me off guard. He said, “Mom, I just haven’t found the right girl yet." Wow! The thought of him marrying some day had never crossed my mind. What a kid! What an attitude! Once again, I was humbled at his ability to rise above his circumstances.
To me, just staying alive and getting through school was far beyond all I could ask or think. I just figured he would take one look at himself, despite how handsome he was, and understand that a future with a wife and family just wasn’t going to happen for him.
I was wrong. One day when Michael asked me what I would think about him asking someone out on a date. I asked him if he had anyone in particular in mind, and he confessed that he had met a girl through the Brickhouse ministry at church and that he had gotten to know her even better during a recent wedding. I had in my mind that they would date for a while, mainly as friends, and that it would go no further than that. The next thing I knew, however, Michael was talking about the possibility of marriage. My son, the engineer, suddenly started writing poetry and reading poems written to him. It wasn’t long before he confided in me that he had been looking at engagement rings.
At this point, Kellie was still in college and only nineteen years old. How could anyone that young be mature enough to take on a husband with so many needs, a husband whose life expectancy from that point was only about ten years or less if the doctor’s predictions were correct? Michael had quizzed Kellie about her ability to handle his disability, the continued progression of his disease, and the burden of committing herself to a chronically disabled man.
She had taken some time to think about these hardships and had decided that she could handle all of them. Both her sister and her father were legally blind, and she was used to dealing with that disability on a daily basis. This was considerably more serious, though, and certainly more physically taxing. The daily bending and lifting would be draining on Kellie, not to mention the emotional burden that accompanies deeply loving someone whose strength is waning pretty much on a daily basis. Michael would not be able to assist her with everyday household chores, nor could he do even simple household maintenance. Rick and I had managed to deal with Michael’s disability over the years, but we didn’t volunteer for the duty. Michael was our son, so, of course, we did what we needed to do. Kellie, however, was free to just walk away and not get caught up in this difficult, downward cycle. But she didn't.
The occasion of my son’s wedding accordioned time for me. I was thrust into the present by the requirements placed upon me as a participant in the marriage ceremony and then pulled away by vivid memories that were flowing through my mind as I watched my son go through such a momentous time in his life.
Michael and Kellie have now been married almost ten years, Michael continues to work full time as an engineer, and he and Kellie have a perfectly healthy, very bright, and adorable 5-year-old son named Joshua. He is truly a miracle from God, whose life reminds us daily of God’s goodness to us.
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This excerpt is adapted from "His Strength Made Perfect: Michael's Story." Cyndie Degnan is a graduate of Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana. In addition to being a wife and mother, she has been a music teacher and a sales representative. Degnan and her husband of thirty-nine years have raised two children, Michael and their adopted daughter Amy, and are active in the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and are leaders in their local church ministry. They currently live in Massachusetts.