To Walk With My Brother: A true story of courage, humor and love by Evelyn Thornton, as told to Michael F. Bisceglia Jr. is dedicated to the author’s mother, Melba Evelyn Thornton. At the age of 92, this courageous, hard working mom of four has outlived her youngest child. This child, Wayne, had the misfortune of becoming a paraplegic in 1953. A shocking case of medical incompetence during an office visit left her little boy a paraplegic for life. In a matter of days, Wayne’s chicken pox subsided but the nightmare of paralysis caused by an injection on the boy’s spine did not. Who was at fault? Wayne’s parents, Melvin and Melba, were never able to get the answer they wanted. They brought Wayne home from the hospital two months later. The lives of the Thornton family would never be the same again.
At first Wayne’s parents were reluctant to accept that their son would never walk again. They did all they could to find a cure. There were visits to many doctors, clinics, specialists, and to any number of therapists and organizations that offered any chance that Wayne might walk again. The family continued to pray for a miracle. He was fitted for body and leg braces and his mom worked with him doing exercises. He tried using crutches but in the end the reality was that he needed a wheelchair and he would never walk. The author says it beautifully, “Now, the ramp was his launching pad, and that chair on wheels was his vehicle into the future.” And what a future! Read this book to go along for the ride!
Story of Courage – Both for Wayne and His Family
To Walk With My Brother is a memoir written by Evelyn, Wayne’s eldest sister. She has worked with author Michael F. Bisceglia Jr. to write this inspiring story so others can gain strength and hope from Wayne’s life. In an interview she said,”So many friends in my age group are now caretakers. GIs now coming back from the wars have also led to a new group of people who are suddenly caretakers. I wanted to share the story for them.”
Woven in Wayne’s story of the challenges he faced to reach independence are encouraging words for readers and their families. Here are some of my favorites:
- His (Wayne’s) logic was simple. He could spend hours regretting all that might have been, or he could develop his potential into a dynamic force.
- “Me, handicapped? No way. I may not get there by the easiest way, but I’ll get there just the same. Just you wait.”
- The truth is that those without do seek to find a way to overcome. Those who find themselves constantly climbing uphill are those who seek to level the playing field.
- He may have lacked the ability to manipulate his legs, but he could utilize his intelligence and employ his upper body strength. In so doing, Wayne would set out to make his everyday life not only doable but enjoyable.
We learn that Wayne was a remarkable person. He managed to cope with the perplexities of being paralysed from below the midchest area. The opportunities and acceptance of those in wheelchairs were both much lower while Wayne was growing up. He had to pave the way for individuals using wheelchairs because it was long before the Americans with Disablities Act. There were no ramps to public buildings, or curbs on sidewalks for wheelchairs, and public washrooms were inaccessible just to name a few places. Everywhere his wheelchair took him, he needed to rely on physical help from friends to get where he needed to be.
While I was reading the book, there were many “high-five” moments. Two that stand out were when Wayne’s father met with the school principal to fight for his right to attend school instead of following his courses at home and the other was when Wayne reached the ocean for the first time. This was made possible by his sister’s initiative of raising an enormous amount of money for what became known as the Shore Patio Project.
One big battle the Thornton’s faced was to get an education for Wayne. The local phone company donated a line to go between his bedroom and the local elementary school classroom so he could attend school during the first years. Advocates for the rights of children with special needs will enjoy reading about the challenges his parents overcame to see him attend school with his peers, graduate from high school and then go on to university.
The Thornton’s lived in rural Mississippi. In addition to Wayne’s story the reader gets a glimpse of what life in a small town in the south of the United States was like in the 1950’s. We learn that home and family were everything to Melba and Melvin. They were poor in terms of money, the author writes, but they were rich in spirit and wealthy in family love.
To remind the reader where this story is in time, many chapters start off with world news of the day. If you are my age, it is a journey down memory lane…
- 1952 – The price of gasoline was 25 cents a gallon.
- 1963 – President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
- 1980 – John Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York apartment.
Was he able to get a job and lead an independent life? Like other people confined to a wheelchair, did he have complications caused by hours of sitting? What kind of life did he have? When did he die and why? I recommend that you read To Walk With My Brother: A true story of courage, humor and love. Learn for yourself how this man, wheelchair bound for life, could express such a postitive thought a short time before his death, “Evelyn, I never thought I would live this long. I’ve had an amazingly good life, and I’m happy.”
About the Authors
Evelyn Thornton, the highly organized oldest child and second in command to Melba, grew up in the rural community of Carthage, Mississippi. After attending Anderson University in Indiana, Evelyn took to the skies, where, for thirty-eight and a half years, she served as a stewardess/flight attendant for US Airways. “When Wayne passed, I lost more than a brother. I lost a true friend. In this book, I have tried to capture the spirit of that admiration in under 200 pages of text. I hope I met that challenge.”
Evelyn lives in Hampton, New Hampshire, only a mile from the Shore Patio that she and Wayne helped to create. In Shiprock, New Mexico, she is known as a volunteer mother to several generations of Navajo children.
Michael F. Bisceglia, Jr., is a former educator with over twenty-five years of experience in the fields of teaching and school administration. His last six years were spent teaching children with diverse disabilities. Retired from the world of education, Mr. Bisceglia writes for several New England newspapers and magazines. Additionally, he is the author of two novels and numerous nonfiction articles. He lives in Hampton, New Hampshire, with his wife.
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