A Journey of Miracles
Cancer, torn aorta, ER doctor, a horse. Goddard School owners share why they believe in miracles.
Blood slowly leaked from his heart, but nothing was going to stop him from finishing the race in honor of his 6-year-old, leukemia-stricken granddaughter. An ambulance was ready as he reached the hill – “No, I’m not quitting,” he said, before riding off with head down, vision blurred and neck stiffening.
“If Lauryn can endure chemo, I can do this even if I have to crawl to the finish,” recalled Tom Rushworth, owner of Carmel’s Goddard School.
The final leg, he walked arm-in-arm for 6.2 miles with his daughter/coach, surrounded by teammates cheering 59-year-old “Grampie” to the finish. In the last stretch, he scooped up his granddaughter and lumbered to the finish line, the last person to cross it. While teammates celebrated he went to bed, and the next day, flew home hoping his body would recover soon. Days later, he awoke in the intensive care, recovering from emergency open-heart surgery.
It was the beginning of many miracles to come for Rushworth, his daughter, Dea Walls, and granddaughter, Lauryn Walls.
A miracle survival through a familiar face in ER
Athletes run with torn ligaments, but a torn aorta is almost always fatal as many don’t make it to the emergency room. But, the right doctor was in the right place at exactly the right time.
“(St.Vincent Carmel Hospital’s) Dr. Michael Kaufmann had the proper training,” said Rushworth. “He started the CT scan higher than normal. Another doctor may have missed it and focused on my abdomen where I was having pain.”
Kaufmann also knew this patient when he appeared in the St.Vincent emergency room that night. They met in a pool months earlier for training as Kaufmann is also a triathlete.
“I recognized him right away when he arrived in the ER,” said Kaufmann. “You can’t even calculate the odds of him surviving. Not only did he survive the aorta tear, but he finished the race and then flew his family home in his plane. It’s inconceivable that he would survive. I believe in miracles.”
Miracles continue with remission
His life was not the only miracle. By that fateful race day in June 2010, Lauryn already was in remission. It all began in January 2008 when she arrived in the ER with random symptoms saying, “My heart hurts.” Soon, the doctors were spelling out C-A-N-C-E-R, so as not to alarm Lauryn (4) and sister, Jordyn (9). Her blood levels were critically low, so low that a scratched knee or bloody nose would have been fatal. Life changed with that one word for the entire family.
“I left that day from work and didn’t come back for another year and a half,” says Walls, a Carmel resident and the owner of Zionsville’s Goddard School. For months and years to come, she remained optimistic.
“We’re fighting this,” Walls recalled saying. “Cancer has taught me a lot. I could be angry with God but I never have been. Maybe God picked Lauryn because He thought she could make an impact. So, I saw it as an opportunity to teach my girls to embrace it and turn it into something good.”
During the past five years Lauryn’s family, with the help of Goddard School families, has raised more than $100,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Wish granted, then lost
Their faith, along with an extended support system of family, friends, doctors and co-workers, kept Rushworth and the Wallses strong throughout the 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy. In August 2009, a Wish was granted through the Indiana wish Foundation. Lauryn’s wish was straightforward: “I want a horse,” she said, and soon Twister became a part of their family.
By fall of 2010, life appeared to be returning to normal, but another obstacle was just around the corner. In November, Twister got sick and suddenly died Thanksgiving weekend. A wish was dashed and the family devastated.
“I cried for weeks,” Walls said. “This horse was our wish, our dream.”
Another “Lil’” miracle arrives
The following summer, while on vacation in Hilton Head, S.C., Jordyn took a horseback riding lesson that would have a lasting impact. After sharing their story, trainer Samantha from Lawton Stables was inspired into action. After the lesson, she said to Jordyn, “Lil’ Bit is really tired of doing lessons. I think she needs two little girls to take care of her. Do you think you would like to have her?”
They were in disbelief at this stranger’s generous offer. Walls saw it as a divine encounter.
“Lil’ Bit was the perfect horse for us,” she said. “She was therapy-trained so she is gentle with the girls. It’s hard to explain but that horse really takes care of Lauryn. She brought hope back into our lives. It reminded us that good things can happen.”
Good things continue to happen. Last Wednesday, Lauryn returned from her three-month checkup all clear, while Grampie sat in his office at the Goddard School in Carmel grateful to be alive.
“I came away with a whole new perspective,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted anymore. God gave me help to get through this and a second chance. I’m not sure why, but I’m doing what I can to make the best of it.”