Helen Ford has found a renewed strength and trust in God through her life-changing year
As she prepares to depart from a 13-month hospital stay, Helen Ford has had a life-changing year filled with colossal trials and challenges.
She has endured an amputation of her right leg, followed by a nine-month battle with a bacterial infection that itself required several operations, and then three additional surgeries on her hips and knee. Yet there radiates from Helen an undeniable sense of joy and love of life. The source of it all is her faith and her trust in God – by these she has not only persevered through all of these immense difficulties, but they have made her faith stronger than ever before.
“I’ve had a long journey of pain and mending, but I’ve had a lot of miracles that happened along the way, and I had faith to get me through,” Helen said. “When it was hard for me to put a smile on my face, I would say, ‘God, I’ll bear through whatever you want me to do, but just please make it over soon or give me a sign.’ Then sometimes a doctor would come and say he was happy with how my incision was healing. God’s message came through the people, and I got that hope, that help, through the whole journey.
“People say to me, ‘I don’t know how you did it.’ And I say, ‘Well I did it, but not by myself. I had God and I had my prayer warriors praying for me.”
For many months Helen had prayed that her enduring pain and infection would go away. For much of that time the prayer seemed to remain unanswered. But today Helen says she is totally pain free, in a way she has not experienced for many years.
“I prayed night and day. And you can become disheartened if it doesn’t happen in your time. But you just have to say to yourself He has the answer. He’s got it,” she said. “The whole journey for me was to learn patience, for me to learn to just put it in God’s hands. I had to learn that lesson – it’s not my time but God’s time.”
It was in April of 2022 that Helen experienced the fall that triggered this year-long journey.
Dealing with increasing pain due to her osteoarthritis, one day she suddenly fell down while at home alone. To get back up, she had to drag herself towards the stairs, and from there get her feet on the steps and slowly garner the strength to stand.
“When I was crawling the top of my foot was rubbing back and forth on the carpet and I got a big rug burn from all that friction,” Helen recalled. “I didn’t feel it because I’m diabetic; my feet don’t have a lot of feeling in them. So I didn’t notice how bad and sore the burn was until the next day.”
Soon a water blister also formed on her foot where the burn was. Helen’s initial thought was if she just cleaned and treated the wound from home, eventually this blister would drain out and heal on its own. Instead, however, the area around her blister began to turn black. And within another day, this black spot was beginning to expand in size.
“I phoned my friend and said we need to go to Emergency to get this drained,” said Helen. “Because of the pain of my arthritis, it took me a while to get ready, so I didn’t get to the emergency until late that afternoon. When I finally got in and they took my sock off – almost the whole top of my foot was now black.”
Initially Helen thought that this hospital trip would be a matter of draining the blister, then perhaps she would be given some antibiotics and then the matter would be over in a few short days. Thus, when the doctor finally examined her foot and spoke four fateful words, it came as an absolute shock.
“They looked at my foot and said, ‘This is an amputation’. I said ‘…What?!’” Helen recalled. “Then they took a blood test and began to tell me all of these outrageous numbers. I told them, ‘That doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t understand that. But I feel fine, I don’t feel sick.’ And they said, ‘These numbers mean your organs are shutting down. We have to amputate your foot tomorrow morning.’ So I realized how dire it was. But then a moment later they took another blood test, came back and said, ‘This is now a life or death situation. You have to have this off immediately.’”
Her foot had entered a fatally dangerous condition of gangrene. That night, only a few hours after entering the ER for what she had hoped would be a relatively short visit, Helen’s foot was amputated.
Since everything unfolded so quickly, Helen did not have the time to inform her family of her situation. It was only the next morning, after her foot had been surgically removed, that she was able to call her siblings.
Despite the shocking and unfortunate turn of events, Helen was able to have a sense of humour through it all. She broke the news to her family members by saying, “Just so you know, the next time you see me I’ll be a foot shorter than I was the last time you saw me.” She says there was long and confused silence on the other end of the phone.
This amputation was only the first part of a long battle. Over the following weeks and months, Helen remained in the hospital due to a very bad infection where the incision on her leg was made. Antibiotics were not able to get it under control, so to try and stop it Helen had three further surgeries on the amputation, where doctors re-opened the incision and cleaned it out. But the infection still remained, and the wound would not heal.
As well, Helen was put on opiates to treat her arthritis pain, now that she was spending almost all of her time on her back and confined to a bed. These opiates were not addressing her pain and were also causing extreme hallucinations. Her doctor then decided to address her arthritis pain through several more operations. While still battling this persistent infection and a new life without a right foot, Helen also underwent two hip replacements and a knee replacement in November and December of 2022.
If that was not enough, because Helen’s incision wound was still not healing, doctors were now discussing an additional surgery to amputate further – removing her leg above the knee.
“I pleaded with the doctor to not take it off above the knee,” Helen said. “Because I really wanted to learn to walk with a prosthetic leg. And they say when learning to walk with a prosthetic, the more of your leg you still have the easier it is and the more strength you will have to push with your prosthetic.
“Meanwhile, I had all my prayer warriors out there just praying for me, asking the Lord to find a way to heal this quickly, to make my incision dry up. We’re all praying that something will happen quickly because otherwise I’m going to lose this other part of my leg.”
Helen has had a multitude of people praying for her through this journey – from family, friends, parishes, CWL councils, Catholic teachers groups and more. She affectionately refers to them as her “prayer warriors.”
For all those long months she was in hospital her name was spoken in the intercessory prayers of Sunday Mass, in churches like St. Joseph’s in Grande Prairie and at her home church Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Bezanson.
Despite all the many months of uncertainty, Helen’s persistent belief in the power of prayer and the reality of miracles was eventually affirmed. On Christmas Day, Helen and her group of “prayer warriors” received the miracle they had been hoping for.
“On December 25th, the nurse came in to dress my stump and she opened it up and said ‘Well, this is all dry. Why are we dressing this? It doesn’t need to be dressed at all – it just needs air.’”
After seven months of a constant infection that no additional surgeries or antibiotics were able to stop, the wound was found to be suddenly and completely healed on Christmas Day. Helen’s leg did not need to be further amputated, and she began to make preparations to go to Glenrose Hospital in Edmonton to receive her prosthetic leg.
“What I learned through that whole year of 2022 was that it’s not my time, it’s not human time, it’s all God’s time. He will give you the answer in His own time. It may not be exactly what you asked for, but sometimes it’s better than what you asked for,” Helen reflected. “I now have no pain at all – which I haven’t had for years and years. I’m able to walk with a prosthetic, and now I’ve been assessed as an independent person that can live on my own.”
When in Glenrose, a hospital that specializes in helping persons with amputations or other physical disabilities, Helen encountered many different people, many with harrowing stories much more strenuous than what she had gone through. She also saw how faith, or the lack thereof, played a part in how each person overcame and dealt with the trials of their disability.
This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the May 2023 edition of Northern Light