GREENVILLE — From the positive pregnancy test to the ultrasound and the first moment a parent holds his or her child, dreams take shape for that baby’s future. So many firsts are recorded through images and baby books.
Barb Johnson of Lakeview had those moments with her daughter, Heather, a beautiful and healthy girl born on Sept. 21, 1989.
At 22 months old, Heather was a normal and healthy toddler until going to a routine well child check-up that included a vaccination update. On that fateful appointment, Heather was injected with the diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus or DPT vaccination. Though initially Heather appeared to be fine, within 10 days of receiving the shot her health declined rapidly.
“She came down with what looked like a cold,” Johnson said. “A few days after that, it looked like she had a stroke, her head was tilted, her left side had some kind of paralysis and she was limping and her hand was rolled into a fist.”
When only displaying cold symptoms, Johnson treated her daughter accordingly but when Heather appeared to have suffered a stroke, she immediately took her to the closest emergency room. On call physicians were unable to make a diagnosis so Johnson was advised to take her daughter to their family doctor. Johnson’s family doctor didn’t have an explanation and set up an appointment with a neurologist in Grand Rapids.
Heather was put through a battery of tests at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital. Doctors there determined she was suffering from encephalitis. They could not offer any cure. Johnson was told nothing could be done, but that answer did not sit well with her. She returned to her family doctor and told him that she wanted Heather to be seen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“In the meantime, she lost everything,” Johnson said. “I was bottle feeding her, she couldn’t walk anymore, she couldn’t talk, she was like a little rag doll, like going back to infancy.”
Johnson took Heather to the Mayo Clinic and before returning home, was told Heather was going to die. However, a few months after coming home, Heather started to show signs of improvement.
“The drooling stopped, she started moving her legs and she could lift her head,” Johnson said. “There was hope there.”
Now 23 years old, Heather Robinson is married and living in Greenville with her husband, Ricky. The two met online while she was recovering at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids. Though wheelchair bound and unable to work, Robinson leads a full life, including recently publishing a book of her life, “Strength of Character.”
Johnson worked with Robinson for more than three years to bring the dream of writing a book to fruition. Rick Seely is a published novelist and when he learned of Robinson, he contacted her through Facebook and encouraged her to write her life story. Robinson always had a passion for writing and Seely felt her story was too compelling to not share with the world.
Taking the advice of Seely, Robinson and Johnson started the emotional process of revisiting the previous 20 years. With an infectious smile and positive attitude, Robinson easily made friends and got along well with everyone. Despite her cheery disposition, she never received invitations to visit a friend’s home or attend parties. This was a difficult part of her childhood, but as a high school student she pursued the dream of attending her senior prom.
“I never got asked out for prom, so I asked my cousin to take me and he flew from Oregon to take me to my prom,” Robinson said. “I wanted something good to happen to me, so I asked everyone to vote for me for prom queen and when I went to prom, I didn’t get elected, but I got the greatest gift ever. Three of my guy friends took me out in the middle of the dance floor and they danced with me and after they danced with me, each of them gave me a hug.”
With the dream of attending prom realized, Robinson has since set other goals including using her book as a platform to help change the way people see those who live with disabilities. She has undergone numerous surgeries in her young life to help correct her back and hips. She also must have her medicinal pump replaced every five years.
“I want to help other people to understand about disabilities and not judge, because we have feelings too,” Robinson said.
Robinson and Johnson will be at a book signing for “Strength of Character” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at The Coffee House in Greenville. Seely set up the book signing and it is his hope that traffic will be lined up the distance of M-91 to meet Robinson and Johnson. Robinson has set a lofty goal for her book in addition to the signing.
“My main goal is to go on (the TV show) “Ellen” with my book and dance with her,” Robinson said. “I want my mom, my husband, my brother, Mikey and sister, Katie all go to the Ellen show with my book and dance with her.”