A Great Adventure
"They were prepared to give her last rites," Beverly's husband Gary explains to me while we sit in their living room waiting for her. "Her stroke came as a shock. I had her medevaced from Hilton Head to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. She hardly remembers anything about that whole period. She was away from Hilton Head from July, 2010 through April, 2011. I commuted back and forth. It was a difficult time, but we survived. She came home April 20th." On the coffee table are numerous photo albums of Beverly through different stages of her recovery.
On a recent sunny August morning, sitting in the Penrod's beautiful home with its sweeping view of the marsh, I was expecting to meet a courageous woman who had made a remarkable recovery from a brain stem stroke on her right side; a woman who inspires admiration and devotion in the people who know her. What I wasn't expecting was the sheer exuberance of Beverly Penrod's presence.
She was rolled into the room in a lightweight wheelchair by her companion, France (pronounced Fran-say) English (who laughingly admits her name is a curiousity). Beverly leaned forward and grasped my hand, saying how pleased she was to meet me. The warmth and openness of her smile drew me in immediately. She projected an aura of vitality and animation. The connection between Gary and Beverly was like a magnetic force field, even though they were seated across the room from each other.
Beverly is a beautiful woman. Her highlighted hair was brushed back from her face; her skin and bone structure are flawless. Her eyes were bright and flashing (I later realized it's the glint of mischief). She was all color and light in her silky multi-color print pants, draped white top, and turquoise sweater. She was wearing jeweled sandals, gold earrings and necklace and her nails (toes and fingers) had a perky pink polish.
It was almost impossible to reconcile this vibrant woman with the photographs Gary had shown me. I don't use the word miracle lightly; it was hard to think of any other word. As we talked, I noticed a slight distortion in her voice, the effect of her damaged left vocal chord. I was told there was some ocular deficit and she had no peripheral vision (which means at this point she can't drive) but to me it was unnoticeable. I knew there was residual weakness on her left side; her left hand rested quietly on her thigh. I also knew she was beginning to walk, unassisted, with a cane. The grueling months of her recovery had left few visible marks.
The genius of Beverly Penrod is her attitude. She is feisty, funny and irreverent. She accepts absolutely no pity. She says, "Some people expect you to be all." she stops and gives an imitation of a spastic with her face all contorted and her tongue hanging out of her mouth. I burst out laughing, while she continues, "So if that's what they expect that's what I give them."
When she was transferred from the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital to the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital*, where she spent ten weeks in recovery, it was uncertain whether she would ever talk or walk again. She could only communicate with blinks and toe wiggles. She says, "The first word I spoke was 'Hi'. I decided to talk first, then walk." Her response to doctors who doubted whether she would walk was "Who are you to tell me I can't walk. I'm different than you."
She admits she never imagined she would have a major stroke. Sometimes she gets frustrated by things she used to be able to do. She gives herself 20 minutes to feel upset and then moves on. "I am who I am now. Doctors are great but the power is you. I know I have to be strong-willed. I can't be namby pamby."
Beverly, who used to cruise in a red BMW convertible, is now traveling in new directions. She has become an accomplished painter. Accompanying her first painting, "Lillies of My Dreams," Gary wrote, "Her pride in having completed this work is not because she is recovering from a stroke; it is simply because creating something beautiful is something that she has always wanted to do."
Gary interjects that the week before, he asked Beverly, "Are you happy?" Her answer was yes. He said, "It's a new way of life and we decided that the struggle is fun. The challenges and achievements give us purpose." Beverly is going to be the Matron of Honor at a wedding in March, 2012. It is her intention to walk down the aisle.
Before I met Gary and Beverly, I felt that this was as much a love story as it was a story of one woman's resilience and spirit. He had written to me, "Beverly is an extraordinary person. She is my hero." They have been married since 1988 after dating for seven years. He also wrote, "We fall in love with each other every day. The stroke has not changed that. We look at this phase of our life as a great adventure."
What can I possibly add to that?
Family: Beverly is an identical twin, older by 20 minutes. She has two daughters, Tracy (Atlanta) and Leslie (Newark, DE).
First Encounters: Gary and Beverly worked in the same office building in Delaware, but didn't meet until they were sitting on the same park bench.
Favorite Pastimes: Shopping, lunch with friends, playing the slot machines
***Magee Rehabilitation Hospital is rated one of the top stroke rehabilitation hospitals in the U.S.