We first met Lisa and Eric Barlow while we were all in brain rehab at Casa Colina about a year after Katherine's stroke. They were the only other couple our age in the program. We've commiserated in ways only fellow young sufferers can about the horrors of brain rehab, the burden of disabilities, and the unknown future ahead for us all. And yet we've also shared great joys made all the more precious in light of the pain that proceeded them. We both wept when we heard Lisa was pregnant, and when we met newborn Eva in the Summer of 2014, Lisa said with her characteristic New York grit, "Well, what are you guys waiting for. If we can have a baby, you sure can too!" And we took her advice to heart. The story of this family will forever be woven with ours, imprinted on our hearts.

This is their story of suffering. What yours?


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{ERIC} We met in college, brought together by our common calling to a simpler life among the urban poor.  We were married while both teaching in Brooklyn then made our way to Los Angeles for an internship in urban community development, looking for more training, community, and guidance for the future, with a dream to one day open a school together.

Six months into the internship, with Lisa barely 5 weeks pregnant, we moved into an apartment in South Los Angeles with the intention of building relationships with our neighbors and starting a Bible study group.  A week later, Lisa started having some back and neck pain.  That night, she woke with acute pain in her neck and loss of feeling in her fingers.  We drove to the hospital.  Lisa got out of the car and walked into the emergency room.  It was the last time she walked.

Over the next few hours, Lisa progressively lost feeling and then movement in her toes, her feet, her fingers and hands, then her legs and arms.  Unknown to us, she was suffering from transverse myelitis - inflammation of the outside layer of her spinal cord - in the 4th vertebra in her neck.  Her brain was losing the ability to communicate with her body below that point.  She was unable to sit up, unable to turn over.  Her breathing became increasingly labored.

Doctors began to consult.  Had she experienced any illness or fever lately?  Had she received any vaccinations?  Had she travelled anywhere exotic?  An MRI confirmed the myelitis but the cause was not apparent. 

After hours in the emergency room, Lisa was moved to a bed in the ICU.  Unable to breath on her own, she was intubated, sedated, and placed on a ventilator.  She would remain in the ICU for over a week.

After several days, strength returned to her lungs, she was taken off the ventilator, and we began to have hope that she would recover.  She was able to breathe on her own again but still could not move a single muscle below her neck.  Another MRI confirmed swelling had subsided but the cause remained a mystery.  Dozens of doctors saw her, each with a new theory but no answers.  She underwent numerous procedures, biopsies, and treatments.  When one approach didn't work, sometimes the opposite was attempted.  The doctors were grasping at straws, trying everything, but nothing seemed to have the hoped for effect.

It was during this time that we learned she had lost the baby, but it wasn't until much later that we truly felt the pain.  We were focused on her recovery, though it seemed slow in coming.  We were grasping for answers as well - why had this happened, and why had God allowed it?  What was the next step, and what did this mean for our future?

After several weeks we began to fight a battle against the insurance company.  The health plan wanted to move her to a different hospital, but we had not gotten the answers we were looking for.  We delayed it by several days, but eventually Lisa was transferred to neurological rehab without ever learning the cause of her illness.  It remains unknown to this day.

We still had hope that Lisa would recover, however, and this was bolstered by the doctors who saw her in rehab.  80% chance, they said, that she would walk again.  She started a regimen of physical and occupational therapy, which was incredibly painful and humiliating, and showed some initial signs of return.  The progress soon stalled, however, and we began to get frustrated. Why was she still unable to move her hands, legs, or feet, even a little?  Our hope began to fade.

We felt lied to.  We felt lied to by the doctors and nurses and family members who said she would get better.  We felt lied to by God.  Other believers we knew and some we did not told us they had received words from God that Lisa would be healed, but where was that healing?  Why had He given us callings for future work that we could not do in places we could not go?  What was the point of continuing to strive and suffer?  We began to feel the pain of all that we had lost and it was unbearable. 

We felt so utterly alone - isolated from each other by these limitations we could not overcome; isolated from our friends and family who could not understand; isolated from the God who seemed so uncaring and cold and distant.

We received much help and support during this time: pastors and leaders in the church prayed and wept with us; a group of friends was constantly praying at the hospital for the 6 weeks Lisa was there.  Family came from the East Coast so we wouldn't be alone and took turns cooking and cleaning for us for over a year.  God provided many necessities: a new apartment close to the rehab facility, an affordable wheelchair, jobs and supervisors who were understanding and continued to pay us even though Lisa couldn't work at all and Eric worked at best half the time.

Eventually, with this support and provision, we began to fathom a life with disability.  We got a car and began to travel.  We started thinking about the future.  We started looking for a house back in our old neighborhood, believing - though we couldn't see how - that God's work for us was not finished there.

Every day since then has been a struggle.  We have cried much.  But though Lisa has not recovered physically, God has been healing us in other ways.  We bought a house and made it accessible.  We began to get to know neighbors and develop friendships.  Lisa enrolled in graduate school and obtained a second masters degree.  Eric was promoted at work.  We found things we could do for fun and ways that Lisa could gain small measures of independence.  Lisa finished her studies and found a new full-time job which allowed her to work with children again. 

And most recently and blessedly, God gave us the gift of our beautiful daughter.  We named her Eva because of the life God brought into our lives through her birth.  Through all these things God has been healing our hearts, showing his faithfulness and goodness despite the great suffering we experience.

We do not know what the future holds for our family, but we trust God to provide.