Rebekah Heffernan

The Potter Knows the Clay

Rebekah“Faith is my foundation”, Rebekah Heffernan said boldly, both at the beginning and the end of the interview.

One of many popular quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reads “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”. For Rebekah, taking her first step on bilateral prostheses at the age of thirteen would have been impossible without her faith.

Although Rebekah claims that the events leading up to her amputation are vague in her memory, she was able to describe it with great detail.

“When I was in the 7th grade, I loved running as long as it wasn’t extended distances”, Rebekah recalled. “I signed up for what I thought was track and field, but soon found out that it was actually cross country, which I hated. However, my mom would not let me quit. I remember attending church one evening before a meet, and suddenly feeling very ill. I had never felt this sick before, and I couldn’t stop shaking. The church prayed for me as my parents took me home. I felt horrible, but everyone thought I had simply come down with the flu. I remember sitting on the edge of the tub as my mother, Mary, ran the bath water for me. By the time she turned back to me, I had went into septic shock. The last thing I remember was being carried outside and into our neighbor’s truck”.

“I was rushed to Ball Hospital in Muncie, Indiana where they ran various tests on me”, said Rebekah. “One of the physicians noticed specific spots on my stomach and ear and then ordered everyone out of the room. She knew it was meningitis”.

Rebekah, usually a very quiet and reserved individual, couldn’t help but laugh when describing the change in her personality while at the hospital.

“I was pretty combative”, Rebekah said with a smile. “I even smacked my dad who later told me that it was the only time that he would ever let me get away with it”.

Rebekah’s condition only deteriorated, and was transferred to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where her sister, Joy, a registered nurse in their ER, was waiting for her. However, they bypassed the ER and took Rebekah straight to the ICU.

“I had what seemed like an endless number of lines and tubes going into me”, Rebekah said.Rebekah

Rebekah spent over 3 months in the hospital, receiving countless treatments, and even more prayers from back home.

“My church family at the Bible Tabernacle Church in Muncie was praying for me constantly”, said Rebekah. “Even my brother-in-law’s parents, who had traveled to Haiti, had the locals gather around to pray for a girl in the States that they had never met”.

Rebekah went on to say, “I underwent three surgeries treating blood clots in my lungs, and finally one day the doctor came into my room to tell me that the gangrene on my feet had spread too far and that they would have to amputate. I went through a series of progressive partial foot amputations, until on the day before Thanksgiving in 1993 when they finally amputated both of my legs six inches below the knee”.

Rebekah would return home from the hospital the following January to a warm reception from both her family and church community.

“I have a vivid memory of being greeted by my dog jumping into the car and onto my lap”, said Rebekah. “It was the best welcome home I could have ever asked for”.

Shortly after returning home, Rebekah’s family learned about the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Lexington, Kentucky where she was fit with her first bilateral prostheses. Rebekah’s father, Jack, said, “A lot of dads don’t even get to see their child’s first steps. I was able to see it twice”.

After adapting to her new prostheses, Rebekah returned to high school wanting to ease her way back into track and field.

“I tried shot-put and discuss, which I was horrible at”, Rebekah admitted. “However, I was able to jog an 800-meter race one time. The team was short one runner and the coach had me step in. One of my teammates slowed down to run with me and cheer me on. The crowd cheered for me as I stood back up and made it across the finish line”.

“I even tried rollerblading once”, Rebekah recalled. “Looking back on it, I wondered why my mother even let me do it, but she was always encouraging and let me try to do anything”.

Outside of track and field, Rebekah also has a passion for traveling the world, having visited France, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Ireland and Canada. She also developed a love for art, especially clay ceramics.

Rebekah“If you mess up with clay, you can always start over”, she said. “During my trip to Israel, a group of friends and I traveled around in an armored truck, escorted by a Rabbi with a firearm. On one of our stops, we walked by a small vase shop in a town called Hebron and they workers inside asked if anyone knew how to use a pottery wheel. It was an unforgettable experience to work my hands in the clay in such an amazing place”.

As Rebekah grew older, her time spent with the Shriner’s Hospital was coming to an end, and she was in search of a new prosthetic company.

“Leaving Shriner’s was one of the worst days of my life. I had developed a bond with my prosthetist and I didn’t want to leave”, said Rebekah.

Knowing that she needed to find a new prosthetist that she could trust, she recalls how she “grilled” Bryan King, who at the time was working with another company.

“I had a list of pros and cons”, Rebekah recalled with a laugh. “The last thing I wanted was a prosthetist who was a schmoozer. Trying to be “sold” a prosthesis is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Bryan was definitely not a schmoozer. He took the time to know and understand me. I really liked his personality. When Bryan made the move to SRT, I followed him because I had a lot of confidence in him. I had security with him. I have never felt like just a patient number”.

“Seeing that Rebekah had such a positive attitude, I utilized her encouraging personality to mentor fellow amputees”, said Bryan King. “I once took Rebekah into a local nursing home to talk with one of my new amputee patients. Upon arriving, we learned that another amputee was also in the facility, and they both sat down to speak with Rebekah. While listening to her story, one of the patients perked up when she mentioned that she was a former Shriner’s patient. He was a Shriner himself and was so elated to meet someone who had benefited from the organization”.

Bryan King also encouraged Rebekah to attend the Amputee Walking School for added support.

“The Walking School was very encouraging”, she said. “I remember seeing Dennis Oehler, one of the instructors, working with another amputee who wanted to run. Dennis said I had great potential and suggested that I try running a 5K. I later signed up for the Susan B. Komen 5K in Indianapolis that year. I remember having to sit down to take a break and having so many people thank me for participating as they jogged by. I couldn’t believe how many women, many who could have been battling cancer, were thanking me”.

“My faith is my foundation”, Rebekah said again, bookending the interview. “The potter knows the clay; God knows what he is doing. I only share my story in hopes of being an encouragement to others”.

“You have to keep standing up; you have to take that one more step.”

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