Last November, Shelley Andersen sensed during prayer that God wanted her to bring hope to the world during her 33rd year. She journaled about the message, wondering how she was supposed to fulfill it.
“I thought I could bring hope to the world but I didn’t know what that would look like,” said Andersen, a Cathedral of St. Paul parishioner.
A month later, as she lay in an induced coma after a near-fatal traumatic brain injury suffered in a sledding accident, that hope — in the form of hundreds of words of prayer and encouragement — poured into her CaringBridge.org website from around the world and didn’t stop until after her final surgery just before Easter.
The news spread by word of mouth; lay communities and prayer groups took up her intentions on different continents; and nurses, former employers and 4-year-olds prayed, while a grandmother in Nicaragua checked regularly on her condition.
Meanwhile, the family of the three children who witnessed the accident grew closer to God and to each other while dealing with the trauma.
“I didn’t choose to be in this accident, to be off work for the last five months,” Andersen said in a May interview. “But it’s a way that the Lord was able to use me that I couldn’t have even asked for, that he was blessing so many people around the world.”
Re-learning everyday life
In answer to the prayers, Andersen said doctors have been amazed at her quicker-than-expected recovery. “They were completely blown away by me being able to leave the hospital so soon.”
On Dec. 18, Andersen and her sled hit a tree near the bottom of a St. Paul hill as the three children she was babysitting and their friends watched in shock. She suffered cranial fractures, and bleeding and pressure on her brain.
Anderson underwent surgery at Regions Hospital. The next day when her brain continued to swell dangerously, she was taken into surgery again and a roughly three-by-four-inch piece of her skull was removed from the top of her forehead to relieve the pressure.
When she regained consciousness after 10 days in an induced coma, she had to endure weeks of slow, sometimes painful recovery during which she had difficulty eating, and she had to gradually build up her strength and re-learn aspects of everyday life.
“I could be awake literally all night, like eight hours staring at the wall because I didn’t really know what was night or what was day,” Andersen said. “I was just kind of confused. It was nice to have people around.”
Besides her family, Andersen’s boyfriend Justin Kortuem was often with her. Kortuem, who attends St. Michael in St. Michael, set up the CaringBridge site and kept the online journal of her recovery. The site has received more than 17,600 visits.
After six weeks she was discharged from the hospital and cared for by her brother Dan and his family. She wore a hockey helmet to protect her brain until mid-April when doctors inserted a titanium plate in her skull to replace the piece removed during the earlier surgery.
Closer to God
The trauma of Andersen’s accident has affected the three McKay children who were with her when it happened, said their mother, Nicole Ross. Jasmyne, 17, will attend Rivers Edge Academy, and Connor, 11 and Riley 7, attend St. Thomas More Catholic School.
“It’s still very much there for them,” she said. “It will always be there for them. It connected them in a different way. You just felt so helpless during that time all you did is pray. “
The accident has brought the entire family closer to God, Ross said.
“We started praying more together and separately, asking God to heal her and caring for each other more, Ross said. “Not that we didn’t before but appreciating life even more. It makes you think what is really important and it’s relationships with other people.”
Connor had his class pray for Andersen and Jasmyne “kind of questions her own faith and I think it made her think more about a higher being or God,” Ross said, “My husband and I, it really made us think more about life and God.”
Kortuem also noted that blessings have come out of the accident. “I know a lot people that offered up their daily joys and sufferings for her and for her healing and I think the Lord heard those prayers and answered them.”
One family from the West-St.-Paul-based Community of Christ the Redeemer to which Andersen belongs wrote:
“We want you to know of our prayers for you. We are offering up all our sufferings, inconveniences and irritations as an offering for your healing. (snow shoveling, traffic jams, etc.) May God use this accident for his greater glory! He will bring good out of this. Stay strong and keep your eyes on Him. When you feel like eating some pot roast, let us know ”
Kortuem said he received consolation in knowing God wanted him to be with Andersen although it wasn’t easy.
“We didn’t know if she would remember anything,” he said. “I just had a very strong sense that no matter what happens, whether she is highly functioning in six months or a year or never. I knew the Lord wanted me to be there to pray with her.”
In May, five months after the accident, Andersen returned to her job as a graphic designer. While she wouldn’t have chosen a head injury, she said she’s humbled by her role in God’s work.
“The Lord asked something of me and I responded to it but I didn’t actually think I was going to have to do something to make it happen, she said. It’s not like I did anything. I don’t remember it but it’s changed so many lives and it’s changed my life in the process.”
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Can anything good come out of suffering? When it’s offered to God, suffering unleashes love in sufferers and in their caregivers, loved ones and friends. Learn how suffering can actually increase the net quantity of love in the world by reading the Faith and Reasons blog this week.