published Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Cleaveland: Terri taught us much

Dr. Cliff Cleaveland, Commentary

Doris and Gary Hasty knew from the September 1961 birth of their daughter, Terri, that their family faced a daunting challenge.

Terri was born with spina bifida, a condition in which the lower spinal cord is malformed, leading in Terri's case to severe, lifelong weakness of her legs. A physician consultant informed the parents that because of the complexity of her condition, Terri would be unlikely to reach age 8.

Hopelessness, however, was not a concept acknowledged by Doris, Gary and Terri.

Annual visits to Warm Springs, Ga., raised hope that Terri might eventually be able to walk with the aid of braces. Several summers of hard work failed and by early in elementary school Terri knew that her waking hours would be spent in a wheelchair.

Counselors suggested special schools. Gary insisted that public schooling offered the only path by which Terri could learn to make her own way in the world. Her elementary school was appropriately named Happy Valley. Her teachers and classmates provided an environment in which her enduring smile became even more infectious. Teachers wheeled her onto the playground at recess so that she could cheer on her friends as they pursued active games.

Rossville Junior High School continued this experience. Terry excelled in her studies, built lifelong friendships, and at graduation received the school's Outstanding Citizenship Award.

The next academic stop, Rossville High School, offered a fresh challenge: a two-story structure without an elevator. Four male students, whom Terri dubbed, "Hasty's Heroes," carried her in her wheelchair up and down the flights of stairs at least twice daily. There was no fuss. The young men appeared at the end of a class, hoisted their chair-bound friend and delivered her to the appropriate floor for her next class. Terry loved her schools. At graduation, she received her high school's Outstanding Citizenship Award.

Terri entered Chattanooga State. After her first year, worsening back pain led to complex surgery to stabilize her spine. Subsequently, she spent weeks at a rehabilitation center in Denver learning how to sit and to maneuver again in her wheelchair. Her smile which reflected a deep-seated optimism never waned. Terry returned to Chattanooga State to complete her associate's degree.

Thirteen years as an employee of the Chattanooga Police Department followed. She worked variously as a dispatcher and checker of backgrounds. She drove to and from work, delighted in earning her paychecks, relished the company of friends and colleagues at work.

Worsening headaches signaled a problem with rising pressure within her brain. She resigned her job, endured surgery to place a shunt, and subsequently worked in the office of the family's business.

Her community involvement did not flag. For years she taught nine- and 10-year-olds in the Sunday School at her church. Her friends spanned a wide age-range. Her rollicking laugh invoked similar responses in those around her. The idea that she might be handicapped did not seem to cross her mind.

Her breathing became progressively difficult in recent months, and Terri died in a hospital on October 6, just weeks after celebrating her 50 birthday with family and friends.

It was my privilege to serve as one of Terri's physicians during her adult years. I never sensed despair. If I was in the midst of a challenging day, she would raise my spirits. She embodied a remarkable blend of courage, gentleness, and optimism. I marvel at what she and her family achieved.

Violence and chaos may dominate media headlines. Meanwhile, modern-day saints live quietly exemplary lives, instructing us in how to live.

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