Published September 4, 2014
MACON — For 31-years Gina Sheppard, 52, has been the wife of Lee Sheppard, senior pastor of Mabel White Baptist Church in Macon. She is the mother of their three grown children, Matthew, 28, and 19-year-old twins Megan and Micah. She is also her husband’s administrative assistant at MWBC and has been involved in almost every facet of the church’s life since their arrival in Macon in March of 2009.
On April 29 Gina was working at her desk adjacent to her husband’s study at the church when she stated that she had lost her vision in her left eye. She also felt a tingling sensation in her leg. Her vision was soon restored, but impaired by “spots” before her eyes.
Lee and other staff members urged her to get medical attention, but she resisted their counsel, stating, “I have an obligation to play the piano for a chapel service in a nursing home.”
Once she had fulfilled her obligation Gina agreed to go to the hospital, but with a great demonstration of tenacity walked into the emergency room at the Medical Center in Macon in her own strength.
From bad to worse
The physicians determined that Gina had experienced a minor stroke and administered tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), an approved coronary thrombolytic agent used to dissolve blood clots.
Gina’s husband stated, “Instead of enhancing the cure, the tPA created a severe intracranial hemorrhage and the minor stoke suddenly became a major catastrophe. Such an adverse reaction to tPA happens to only one in a million. Gina happened to be that one.”
Gina’s condition worsened during the night and further tests revealed that her deteriorating condition could cause brain death. The physicians informed Lee that he should prepare himself to make some very difficult decisions.
Since that fateful day in April Gina has had another near death experience, seven surgeries, more than four months of hospitalization, and lots of grueling therapy sessions.
Five weeks after her initial hospitalization Gina Sheppard was moved to Shepherd Center in Atlanta to begin a program of rehabilitation. Through sheer determination and by the grace of God Gina began to make progress that was classified as nothing short of miraculous.
The most recent surgery, on Aug. 18, involved retrieving and replacing Gina’s skullcap by using a metal plate and screws, relocating a shunt and repairing a membrane that had not properly healed.
A portion of the skull had been removed in an earlier surgery to relieve increased intracranial pressure and to insure that Gina’s life was not in further peril. The skullcap was sewn into the subcutaneous tissue of her abdomen where its viability was maintained by the body.
The surgeon had predicted that the procedure would take 4-5 hours, but he was finished in approximately three hours. Stan Hutchinson, who writes daily journal posts about Gina’s journey via CaringBridge.com, wrote, “The surgery was a hurdle that was known from the beginning. It is good to now have it over and in the rear view mirror.”
Daily progress and support
Last weekend for the first time in 123 days Gina Sheppard returned to her home in Macon from the hospital. Her healing, recuperation, and hospitalization is not over, but the long weekend at home was a positive signal that significant progress is being made.
The next step is a return to Shepherd Center in Atlanta with daily visits to Shepherd Pathways in Decatur for their outpatient rehabilitation program.
Phillip Ramati, writing for the Macon Telegraph, explained, “The ordeal has been an emotional roller coaster for the Sheppards, but they have managed thanks to their faith and members of the church who have stepped in to help.”
Sheppard, speaking from his church study bedecked with taxidermal trophies from his hunting adventures, described his wife as godly, sweet, supportive, and tenacious. Her determination and tenacious spirit have been vital in her fight for survival and recovery.
Every Sunday Stan and Marci Hutchinson take a computer to Shepherd Center in Atlanta so Gina can watch the live streaming Internet broadcast of the morning worship service at Mabel White. Lee commented, “She sings with the choir and congregation, listens to the sermons, and responds as God directs her.
“Gina’s sight is not back to normal yet, because she sees double. She can walk and is too independent to rely on a walker for support. She is able to bathe herself, dress herself, and take care of her own basic needs. We are not where we hope to be, but Gina has made great progress since April 30 and May 5 when we almost lost her.”
In reflecting on the trials and challenges of the last four months the Mabel White pastor added, “We have discovered in all our struggles that Jesus is not only necessary, but He is enough. If I didn’t have my faith and relationship to Christ I would probably go crazy. It is a whole lot easier to preach about life’s struggles than it is to live through them.”
Mabel White Baptist Church has coalesced around Lee and Gina Sheppard and faithfully ministered to them. In addition to members engaged in daily prayer for the Sheppards they hosted a “Jericho Prayer Walk” for them on June 1.
The church set aside a “Day of Prayer” (24 hours of prayer) on June 17. On July 16 the church had a church-wide yard sale to help the Sheppards with medical, rehabilitation, and ancillary expenses related to Gina’s lengthy hospitalization. For example, the MWBC pastor’s home has had to be modified to accommodate Gina’s needs when she returns.
For more information about Gina’s journey and ways to support the Sheppard Family please visit the homepage of MabelWhite.org.
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