Dealt a rare hand, she’s playing it well
Abby Winterrowd reflects on the battle that is her life...and tells us she's not alone here
I come from a long line of people just like me: my grandparents, my uncles, my mother, and even my little brother. Each of us was dealt an unfortunate set of cards and not only did we have to play them, but we had to make it look easy. None of us has ever complained, played the sympathy card, or folded. We simply put on our poker faces and play the game.
Of course, I am not actually speaking of a poker game. However, it is a perfect metaphor for the lifestyle we live. Each of us faces a multitude of medical issues, but I am not here to tell their stories. I’m here to tell my story and to be the voice of many other kids who battle their own unfortunate deck of cards on a daily basis.
I was born with many medical issues, mostly pertaining to my esophagus, lungs and digestive system. There have been many times when the doctors were unsure of my ability to survive. But after 19 major surgeries, countless procedures and painful tests, here I am telling my story.
I have never been “normal.” I have always been a little different from the rest of my classmates. I used to go to school with tubes protruding from my body; marks and scratches from IVs; and, as I like to call them, “battle scars” from surgery. Some of these were visible, others were hidden.
I never wanted extra attention or special treatment, other than what was necessary. Never once have I said “poor me” or “why do I have to deal with this?” I was forced to mature at a very young age. If you ask my closest friends and family, they will speak of my courage and positive attitude. I am not easily frightened and it takes a lot for me to have a bad day. I simply do what I have to do to survive…
We are not easy to point out. Like any skilled poker players would, we hide our cards from the rest of the players. We play the game silently, but methodically. We appreciate every chip we earn and take nothing for granted.
I know that I’m not the only poker player in the world. I have met many remarkable people going through a variety of medical issues. Knowing others who are going through a similar situation gives me a strange sense of comfort. There is an unspoken bond between us. We know things about the world that nobody else could ever dream of. It’s like our own secret language. We understand each other and there is no judgment because we’ve all been through the ringer.
Last year, I met Juliana Furino, then a junior here at Webster Thomas High School. As I was leaving the hospital in December, Juliana’s journey was just beginning. She was rushed to the hospital at 3 a.m. on Christmas morning. “Finding out you have a hemorrhaging brain tumor on your cerebellum and going into emergency brain surgery when you’re supposed to be home with your family opening gifts is not the easiest thing to handle,” said Juliana. She later added that she “received the greatest gift of all”: her life. Juliana’s positive attitude inspires those around her to appreciate their own lives.
Perseverance is a strong quality of mine. Many people ask me from where I draw my inspiration. For me, there is no definite answer. I draw inspiration from many different sources — music, other kids going through similar issues or even from within myself. Honestly, though, I draw most of my inspiration from my role models: the surgeons, nurses, and doctors who have gotten me where I am today.
While I was at the doctor’s office, I sat down with a nurse, Jen Mettler, who has been giving me allergy shots for over 11 years. When I asked her to describe me, her first words were, “Oh my God.” With tears in her eyes, she continued to say, “You are probably one of the strongest kids I know, with the best attitude.” She grabbed a tissue and added, “Nothing keeps you down.” I stood up and walked across the room to hug her. We concluded the conversation with our usual, “See you next week!”
One day, I aspire to be in the medical field myself. I have always wanted to be a doctor and help kids who are fighting a similar battle. It’s hard to believe that someone who has as many issues as I do could possibly achieve such an accomplishment. But I’ve always been one to defy odds. In fact, I have been nicknamed “the curveball” by my surgeon after suffering complications during a surgery. I have been warned that choosing such a difficult career path while facing such great challenges would not be easy. But that has never stopped me from chasing my dream.
I could only hope that other young people facing medical challenges read this. My goal is to inspire them to chase their own dreams because they can make these dreams a reality.
We can be intelligent, funny, brave, artistic, athletic, and not “that kid with the medical problems.” We can be whoever we want to be. We don’t have to listen to those who tell us we can’t. We have beaten the odds and overcome obstacles that many adults couldn’t even fathom. We have looked fear in the eye and laughed. We have taken the worst of metaphorical beatings and asked, “Is that all you’ve got?” We don’t want people to take pity on us. We are a rare, incredible group of people, and it’s about time that the world sees just what we can do.
Life is like a game of poker. You sit down at the table, get your cards, and play them to the best of your ability. It’s a gamble, but I’m going all in.