Six years ago, when she was four years old, Krystal Shirley darted into the path of a speeding car. She fractured her spine at the base of her neck and was permanently paralyzed. Dalby Shirley and his wife, Kathlene, of the North Las Vegas Seventh Ward, were told that Krystal, the second of their three children, probably would not live, and that if she did, she would never move, never talk, and never leave the hospital.
“We prayed for miracles,” recalls Kathlene. “We prayed first for her life,” and when that blessing was granted, “we prayed that Heavenly Father would restore her body. Prayers, blessings, and ward fasts all focused on Krystal. Today, although she moves only her head, she does talk, and she lives at home.”
Because Krystal’s lungs are paralyzed, she must be connected to a ventilator, a large machine that forces air in and out of her lungs through a tracheostomy in her throat. When she must be away from the machine, a football-sized bag is attached to her trach, which allows someone to manually breathe for her.
For four years following the accident, diaphragmatic pacers, which draw air in and out of her lungs, were implanted under her arms. This allowed Krystal to be away from the ventilator for up to seven hours on good days. Krystal says the pacers helped her look “like any other ordinary kid in a wheelchair.” When the pacers failed, they were replaced by four-inch trach tubes that enter her throat through the tracheostomy.
Although hospital stays have been frequent, in the spring of 1985, Krystal became one of the few permanently respiratory-dependent children to leave Salt Lake City’s Primary Children’s Hospital for home care.
Krystal’s mother, using sterile hospital procedures, maintains a rigorous daily routine that includes frequent cleaning and care of the tubes that keep Krystal going—the gastric tube to her stomach for feeding and medication, since Krystal’s appetite is generally poor; the Broviak tube that enters the main artery to the heart to supply medication; the tracheostomy and circuits that connect her to the ventilator. The tracheostomy has been instrumental in helping Krystal communicate. With air passing over her vocal cords from leaks around her trach, Krystal has taught herself to speak in a completely normal voice. It’s her voice that reveals her delightful sense of humor. Once, when the ICU nurses were searching in her room for a misplaced electronic thermometer, Krystal gleefully quipped, “Well, we know I didn’t take it.”
In the last year, Krystal has undergone several surgeries, which have added complications to the already demanding care that she requires. In addition to caring for the tubes, Kathlene must see that Krystal’s body is bathed, lotioned, and massaged daily. And her limbs also must be kept supple by range-of-motion exercises three times a day.
At times, the exercises have been performed by teams of family members—especially Kathlene’s parents, who are often at her side—friends, and ward volunteers. Since Krystal can never be left alone, a nurse now spends a nightly 8-hour shift with her, but her parents have spent many 24-hour days caring for her.
One thing the Shirleys didn’t pray for at the time of the accident, but which they have discovered, is Krystal’s spiritual development. When Krystal was only four, she told her father, “I can’t move my arms, and I can’t move my legs, but I can think.” And she thinks a lot about spiritual things. When she turned eight, Krystal insisted on being baptized, regardless of the real possibility that she could drown or be deprived of oxygen for too long. Her uncle “breathed” for her, using the manual ventilator, and held her nose while her father performed the baptism. Her parents also used the manual ventilator to help her breathe for two hours during a tour of the Las Vegas Temple, and for three hours when she attended that temple’s dedication. Her Primary class comes from the meetinghouse next door to bring Primary to Krystal. She reads the Book of Mormon daily, turning the pages with a pencil held in her teeth.
Krystal’s courage and her family’s dedication to her and the gospel have affected many people—strengthening testimonies, shoring up faltering determinations, and introducing many to the gospel. Dalby says, “We have to depend on the Lord for everything.” Kathlene adds, “It doesn’t matter what happens in life; it is what we do with it that counts.”—Karma K. Wasden, St. George, Utah, and Gwendolyn K. Frei, Santa Clara, Utah