Thanksgiving Day is a holiday that reminds Americans to give thanks for the blessings that they have. Locally, the Duggard family has been reminded every day for the last few months.
A little more than a year ago the Duggards were rocked with devastating news. Victor and Michele's daughter, Shelby, a standout softball player at Silverdale Baptist Academy who was just beginning her junior year in high school, was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS.
The disease escalated to a point that by the time spring and softball season rolled around, Shelby couldn't play. She was unable to walk.
The Times Free Press ran a story April 21 in which Shelby described her situation this way: "Mainly the biggest issue is my heart rate is so abnormal I have issues when I stand. I'm in a wheelchair. It's super hard for me to walk. When I stand up, all my blood goes to my legs. I get blurry vision. Basically it all starts from my heart beating too fast."
But Shelby's life story took a dramatic turn July 8 when she and other members of Silverdale Baptist Church's youth group left on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Although people with POTS can have unpleasant experiences flying on an airplane, Shelby was determined to go. She's considering making missionary work a lifelong endeavor, so she had her wheelchair packed aboard, then sat with good friend Kinsey Thomas and got ready for the flight.
After the airplane landed, Shelby recalled how so many people were complaining about the heat in the Dominican being overbearing. She said she didn't feel it. What she felt was no pain in her legs.
"I stood up and I didn't struggle to get off the plane," Shelby said. "I was waiting to get my wheelchair from underneath the plane, and I didn't need it."
Shelby had prayed this day would come, including on the flight down with her friend. Suddenly she was running around in the airport, literally.
"I was just hoping and praying He would keep me healed," Shelby said.
She visited her pediatrician about a month after returning home, and the checkup went great. Her doctor had no explanation.
Shelby not only hasn't needed her wheelchair since the trip, she was able to assist Silverdale middle school softball coach Tim Thompson during the team's fall season. Being a former pitcher, she mainly worked with the pitchers and catchers.
"I could throw just like I used to," Shelby said. "My arm didn't hurt. I was able to hit outfield. It was a lot of fun."
She has accepted that she'll no longer play fastpitch, but she still enjoyed coaching it, noting that she especially liked it at the middle school level where in addition to teaching the game she could try to help girls at that age with their problems. After all, she knows a little something about coping with personal struggles.
The difficulties of dealing with POTS ultimately led Shelby to stop attending SBA. But the former straight-A student accelerated right through her home-school classes recommended by the academy and she completed her high school education this past summer.
In April she told the Times Free Press she was unsure if she would attend college because of both the mental and physical effects of POTS. But since things have changed, she applied to and was accepted at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and plans to enroll in the fall semester next year.
Throughout Shelby's trials in her young life, Silverdale has provided her a support system. She's currently employed there. She also attends Bible classes there three days a week.
Former Silverdale softball coach Glen Woodard said to the Times Free Press in April: "She's still a part of Silverdale's softball team, even though she can't be on the field with us. As far as I'm concerned, she will be until she graduates."
Technically that day has come and gone, but there remains a formality to make things complete. Shelby has accepted an offer from the school to walk — yes, walk — across the stage with her graduating classmates in May.
"I'm just so thankful to have a God that can heal," Shelby said. "I'm thankful to be able to walk, which is something I used to take for granted every day. I'm thankful I'm able to work as a normal kid, a teenager. Everything that was taken from me has been given back, but in a different way than it was before. But this is what God wanted for me."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.