By MARILYN TINNIN
The day that changed their lives began without a hint that it would be anything other than a routine workday for Gary and Kym Heine of Madison. The accident on Highway 49 North that October afternoon in 2014 turned their comfortable lives upside down, but in the middle of uncertain endings brought unexpected blessings—a richer relationship with each other and with their Lord who has been faithful and sufficient.
When Kym, who is a speech and language pathologist and regional consultant, received a call late that afternoon, she was in Oxford where she was to work the next day. The woman on the other end of the phone simply said Gary had been in a horrible accident and was not doing well. She could hear him in the background instructing the messenger to tell Kym he loved her. The messenger also said that he couldn’t speak to her directly because he was unable to move.
Kym called her church, Highlands Presbyterian in Ridgeland, praying that someone would be there so late to answer the phone. She asked that one of her ministers call her quickly, and in the meantime she called her family which included their four children. On the three-hour trip from Oxford to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, someone from the pastoral staff or one of her friends or family stayed on the phone with her the entire time praying for Gary. When Kym arrived at the hospital she found the emergency room overflowing with church friends and others from all over the Jackson area. “The amount of love and support we felt from the moment we received word of the accident was truly what sustained us,” Kym says.
The news delivered by Gary’s physicians concerning his initial prognosis was less than encouraging. The damage to his spinal cord was extensive, and the doctors painted a grim picture of Gary’s future. He would perhaps never recover the use of his upper extremities. The Heines, though well versed in the challenges of disabling injuries, took that news with a grain of salt and a deep dependence on the God they serve. His power is never limited by the words on a hospital chart.
But this whole situation was hard. Very hard. The practical day-to-day needs involved educating themselves regarding his medical care—present and future—filing mountains of paperwork for worker’s compensation, feeding the family, and adjusting to this new normal that they prayed was temporary.
Eighteen months later, Kym can barely talk without tears about the way God met every need through “the body of Christ each with their own God-given talents.” Meals arrived at home and at the hospital. Others helped Kym with the maze of daunting paperwork. Someone even provided five parking passes for the family cars that were coming and going daily. Someone set up a Caring Bridge website and did the updating for Kym.
Oldest daughter Emily took turns with her mom spending the night with her dad. He was in ICU, so they could only see him every six hours. They passed the time in between reading scripture, doing devotions, and learning the exercises his team of therapists had prescribed.
Clinging to scripture was essential to their energy as well as their sense of peace. Gary’s personal verse was Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom will I be afraid?” Younger daughter Olivia made a poster of this verse and put it over his bed to remind him night and day that God really had this whole situation in His hands.
After surgery at UMMC to fuse the damaged parts of his spine, Gary recovered movement in his legs. But when he arrived at Methodist Rehab a few weeks later, his arms remained paralyzed. As a physical therapist, he knew MRC’s reputation and staff. There was no better place or program anywhere. As he told his therapists and physicians, his goal was to get back to work. He called himself “old school” because he wanted to provide for his family, and he intended to put himself through whatever rigorous paces necessary to make that happen.
Gary superseded those initial predictions the doctors gave, but he continues to struggle with constant neural pain and the inability to do all the things he was accustomed to doing. Kym describes even little things, “Like not being able to get the first tissue out of the Kleenex box or open a zip lock bag can be unachievable on any given day. Even so, we are so thankful for all that he is able to do and realize it is all possible through Christ who enables him.”
Gary’s recovery is still a work in progress. He has come so far but hopes to recover even more of the abilities he had before his accident.
He and Kym insist the blessings have come in spite of everything.
Gary has been working part-time since November and in April was selected as National Physical Therapist of the Month for his company, Mississippi Home Care. Clearly, his return to work inspired his co-workers.
Ever the encourager, Gary sends out a group text and scripture to his family every morning. Occasionally, Kym says, he includes a flashback picture or some other comic relief he finds on the internet. “He also has a daily group text with ‘the guys’ and he tries to get together with his friends more frequently than he did prior to the accident.”
The Heines live with great intentionality these days and a sense of what Paul must have meant when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians. They have had a glimpse of the body of Christ at its very best. They have felt the breadth and length and depth and height of that love, and they are forever changed by it.