Today’s guest blog comes from a inspirational, Jesus-filled woman who I greatly admire. It is an honor to share her story on Still Waters Blog. Thank you for sharing your story, Katherine, in this post and part II coming next week!
My name is Katherine Devine. I am 26 years old. I graduated from Samford University last year with my Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology. Before that I attended Western Kentucky University, which is where I met Mallory! But, I’ve become much closer to Mallory through reading her blogs and following her journey. Today, I am sharing the story of my brother.
Paul Andrew Divine at age 6 months, 7 years and 18 years.
My brother, Paul, never uttered a word in his life but he taught me treasured lessons. Paul was born with an extremely rare chromosomal abnormality called partial trisomy 7q and thus experienced many medical problems throughout his life. He had both intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
I deeply admired my brother’s differences and the strength he exhibited in facing seemingly insurmountable struggles. I wanted to be more like him.
He had so many lovable quirks. He laughed when anyone sneezed. He found great enjoyment in clanging pots and pans together in the kitchen. He was a Casio piano enthusiast and was given a new one each year for Christmas. We liked making music together. We played games like by tossing peanut butter jars back and forth. He was an awesome cuddle buddy. When he sat in a beach chair in the middle of our kitchen floor, I would sit with him or lay down beside him. He said the most through his glowing smile that earned him the nickname “Smiley”.
Paul and I laying on our kitchen floor at home in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I was 6 years old and he was 13 years old.
During much of my childhood, Paul lived in a residential home for individuals with disabilities, the Wendell Foster Campus in Owensboro, KY. It is located an hour away from my hometown of Bowling Green. I frequently visited on the weekends. This allowed me the opportunity to not only to grow up with Paul, but also to know and learn from the other residents.
Because of this, as a child I felt I had many siblings. They were wonderfully unique and very important to me. The relationships I had growing up with my brother and the other residents were indescribable; they undoubtedly laid the groundwork for the direction my life would take.
This is me at age 12 with one of the young women who lived at the Wendell Foster Campus with my brother.
The evening of April 26th, 2006 my family and I drove to Louisville to spend the night at the Ronald McDonald House. My brother was having surgery the next day at Kosair Children’s Hospital to insert a rod into his spine to correct his scoliosis.
Unfortunately, just three days after the surgery, my brother suffered a cardiac arrest. It was discovered that his heart had stopped because of the effects of a blood infection called MRSA, which Paul acquired from having been in many healthcare facilities over the years.
He was in the intensive care unit for the next 85 days to follow; 85 days of sheer pain, for my family and I who watched my brother suffer, but especially for Paul.
On the morning of August 18th, 2006, at his home the Wendell Foster Campus, my brother slipped away from this earth while I stood by his bedside. I squeezed his hand and repeated, “I love you, Paul. You’re the best brother ever.” Around 7:50 am I witnessed my angel go home to be with Jesus. Though I had a strange sense of peace as Paul was passing away, the following days and years were filled with anger towards God.
I spent the first few years of high school just trying to be as normal a student as possible. I didn’t have desire to be around anyone with disabilities, because they only reminded me of Paul – and that reminder stung. I was quite bitter with God, blaming Him for this loss. But little did I know God had a plan all along to use people like my brother to drag me up out of the pit of despair and equip me to live a life of great joy!
Genesis 50:20 has certainly been made manifest in my life. “You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people, which is being done.” My self-wallowing and doubt in God’s plan meant to hurt me, but God wasn’t going to let that happen.
My journey back into the special needs community started during my senior year of high school when I signed up to be a peer tutor in a special education class. Then I met David, and Matthew, and Yokin, and Kate – all the dear students of this class. Dancing and singing with David to the High School Musical soundtrack, talking to Matthew about the names, ages, birthdays, and many other specifics of various popular celebrities (hey, the man loves his pop culture!), scratching Yokin’s back, and talking to Kate about our mutual obsession of the Jonas Brothers – each of these interactions was like a drop of salve on my wounded heart from the loss of my brother. I got positive encouragement from the teacher that I was doing a great job as a peer tutor.
The process of engaging with, loving on, and caring for these sweet folks seemed to be pre-programmed in me. I’d been teetering around wheelchairs ever since I could walk. I’d been communicating with people who couldn’t verbally speak ever since I could talk. That’s when I started to consider putting my love for this population to work in my career.
When it came time to decide on a college major, it was one of my brother’s Speech Therapists who talked me into taking the route of Speech-Language Pathology. A career that combined language with helping people who had special needs sounded good to me! I checked the box for “Communication Sciences and Disorders” on my application to WKU, and haven’t turned back since.
Because Katherine’s story is so beautiful and I did not want to cut out details, this blog is separated into two parts. Stay tuned for Part II coming next week, when Katherine shares how allowed her childhood experiences with Paul to lead her into a life of passionate service and love for the special needs community.