**This week I am pleased to feature guest blogger Virginia Lieto.  I first made contact with her when she won a copy of my book, Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers, after a blogger giveaway.  Since then, we have been communicating, and we discovered many things in common.  I find it awe-inspiring that God continues to place amazing people like Virginia in my path.  Her story, which is written from the perspective of a child with special needs rather than from a parent’s perspective, offers unique and heartfelt insight into what life was like for her growing up “different.”  Many of us who have children with special needs will be touched by what she shares here.**

Unconditional love from a parent is a blessing, especially when you are a child who requires a lot of care. As we sit between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I take this time to remember my deceased parents and their unconditional love for me. I was born in 1957 with severe congenital clubbed feet. At my birth, the hospital staff handed me to my mother, expressing their sorrow, for no one believed that I would ever walk. You see, “congenital clubbed feet” is a deformity of the bone structure from the toes to the pelvis. My bones grew in the womb malformed; they grew twisted and curved inward.

Back in the 1950s the science and technology couldn’t hold a candle to today’s breakthroughs. Therefore, I became the experiment at finding a solution to address congenital clubbed feet. My situation was apparently so severe that my doctor presented my case at an American Medical Association conference and published his findings in a medical journal.

As with science and technology, health insurance was nowhere near what it is today. Therefore, my parents racked up a lot of debt to give me the best chance at life. It was an uphill battle from day one, but my parents made every sacrifice, took every opportunity and faced every challenge with unconditional love for me.

My parents immediately sought an orthopedic surgeon to see what could be done for me. He started the process by placing plaster casts on my legs for long periods of time to help in the growth formation of my bones. Since children grow so quickly, my mother had to learn how to change my casts at home. To everyone’s surprise, I started walking at the normal age, with casts on my feet! By the time I was 15, I calculated that I had spent half of my life either in the hospital for nine surgeries (between ages 4-15), recuperating from surgeries, or suffering through brutal physical therapy sessions.

Through the entire physical trauma, my parents were always by my side. The long days in the hospital, the daily care while recuperating, the trips to the doctor’s office and physical therapy sessions – my mother was right there. Those nights in the hospital – my dad would relieve my mom and stay with me. My dad worked to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads, while my mom addressed everything needed for my daily care. I can remember overhearing a conversation between my parents one night, when my mother said to my father, “I think we can pay the surgeon another $25 this month.”

I never took their sacrificial love for me for granted. My dad was a printer, a blue-collar worker, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. There were times when my siblings and I had to do without niceties, because my medical care was so expensive. Yet one thing that we did get was an above ground swimming pool for the whole family. It was deemed a great means of exercise for me to build stronger leg muscles. You can see for yourself what my legs looked like in this picture of me at age 5 with my big sister, Joan. We were getting ready to get into the pool to complete my exercises.

My condition not only had physical effects but also a mental impact. I suffered a great deal of verbal abuse from classmates at school because I was “different.” When not in a cast and on crutches, I wore metal braces on my legs. They called me names and made me feel worthless. To offset the verbal abuse, my parents showered me with love; they treated me with dignity; they taught me to believe in myself. Their care giving was the whole package: full commitment!

All of the blood, sweat and tears (literally) paid off. Today, I am a fully functioning adult, albeit walking with a limp, but able to do anything that anyone else can do, except wear high-heels (but I hear that’s not good for women anyway, so, no loss from my perspective).

Although my parents have since passed away, I still cherish their unconditional love and sacrifice to give me the best chance at life. When I was at my most vulnerable, my parents were there to give hope, compassion and kindness – with love, respect, courtesy, friendliness, perseverance and magnanimity. They are virtuous saints in my book! May they rest in Christ’s peace for having been the best parents/caregivers this little girl could ever receive.

Text and Photo Copyrights 2015 Virginia Lieto, all rights reserved.

Virginia Lieto’s Bio

Virginia Lieto for St Joes Bio (2)Virginia is an adjunct professor at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine – Theology Program Online, where she also obtained her Master of Arts Degree in Pastoral Theology. You can find her blogging about the virtues at virginialieto.com. Virginia’s upcoming children’s book titled Adventures of Faith, Hope and Charity – Finding Patience will be published in 2015. Virginia speaks publicly on the Catholic faith. She lives in Harrisburg, NC, with her husband Nick.

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