Frank Siedel (Si) Peterson of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is a typical young Latter-day Saint.
He studies; goes to institute classes; attends his church meetings; does his home teaching; and goes to Education Days, Know Your Religion lectures, ball games, concerts, and movies. He is six-foot three-inches tall, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, slender, and unassuming. He is even the coach of the ward slow-pitch softball team. How much more typical can you get?
But although Si may be typical, no one would ever accuse him of being average. He is an acknowledged superstar in the difficult field of lifting spirits and touching hearts. His talent is people, and he does not hide his talent.
“Si definitely has an exceptional effect on people,” says Russ Brailey. “He’s also a most reliable home teaching companion. Mind you, I had to get accustomed to having his mother go with us.”
“Right. I know what Russ means,” states Glen Hudson, captain of the men’s slow-pitch softball team. “When Si first became our coach, it seemed strange to always have his mother there.”
Si is no mama’s boy; but somebody, usually his mother, Anita Begieneman, always accompanies him because he has been almost totally paralyzed since March 1, 1975, when he fell from a high bar. He can only see, hear, think, mouth words, and smile.
Prior to his accident, Si had been a fairly typical Latter-day Saint teenager. Almost 17, the oldest of six children, he loved all sports; tolerated school; played the piano; and teased his brothers, his sisters, and his mother. His one big goal was to go on a mission as soon as he turned 19.
In one instant Si went from full healthy activity to total paralysis. He lost all movement. He could not breathe, speak, or eat. He was on a respirator 24 hours a day.
Usually when people are suddenly handicapped they experience denial, anger, resentment, and even bitterness before they finally accept their condition. Si’s medical team was amazed because he did not experience anger, depression, or a sense of hopelessness and panic.
He did get pneumonia, however, and his mother called Si’s former bishop and good friend, Robert S. Patterson, to give Si a blessing. President Patterson said, “Your accident has a definite and important purpose. You are to become an instrument in Heavenly Father’s hand to help bring many people who do not presently believe in God to a knowledge of him. This is to be your mission. You agreed to it before you came to the earth, and if you fulfill it well, you will thank your Heavenly Father for it every day throughout eternity.”
Si’s mother also received a witness of the Lord’s love. Si remembers, “Mom asked me what I would do if I could never again walk, talk, play the piano, or participate in sports. It was something that I had thought about a lot. I said, ‘It’s okay, Mom, I did those things the best I could when I could do them, and now I’ll learn to do something else.’
“She told me that the day after my accident she had gone down to my room, sat on the bed, and cried, ‘Heavenly Father, why? Why did this happen to my son?’ In answer, thoughts flooded into her mind. She realized that it was the Holy Ghost, so she grabbed a pencil and paper off my desk and recorded what came to her: ‘This life is a training ground for godhood. How we meet the trials that come and how we let them affect our lives are very important. We must see them as instruments of growth. All things can be for our good if we but let them. This life is the time to prepare to live again with our Heavenly Father, to grow in spirit and character and strength to meet the challenges and tremendous responsibilities of the celestial kingdom. This time of Si’s life will be exciting and challenging as new experiences come to him. None of the talents he has developed will be lost. They are just temporarily set aside while he develops others.’”
As the months passed, Si learned that he did not have to live a passive life simply because he could not move. There was still much he could give. He even learned that one way of giving was to accept help from others with love and gratitude. And he has received from many, many people.
To mention a few: His mother visits his hospital room each day and spends many hours with him. Other family members also show their love and support. Doctors and nurses at the hospital provide constant care. The Primary children of his stake raised $2,000 to buy a hydraulic lift to raise his wheelchair into his van. The Edmonton Singles Ward produced a musical comedy, and his four talented stepsisters presented a musical program to raise funds for a personal computer.
Brother Bob Layton, the early-morning newsman of CHED radio, produced a two-part documentary on Si. The response was so overwhelming that the station had to repeat it many times. Eventually this soundtrack was combined with a series of slides to form an audiovisual package. Brother Layton has, on request, taken this to firesides, schools, and service clubs many times. The letters that have poured in to Si, many from school children, are evidence that he has truly been an instrument of bringing people to God. One girl wrote, “Your faith and your acceptance of your accident help me to believe too. I love you.”
Some gifts Si has received were not altogether welcome at first. One day in 1977 a young man named Duane Simpson walked into Si’s room, snapped off the TV set, and demanded, “What are you doing with your life, Si? Why are you wasting your time watching TV? There’s nothing wrong with your brain—Why aren’t you using it?”
Si was stunned. His mother was furious. But Duane continued, “Si, I’m here to help you any way I can.” He explained that he had been assigned to Si as a tutor.
Beginning then, Si’s life changed dramatically. “I guess I needed Duane to bawl me out like that. I wasn’t doing anything because I never really thought there was anything I could do. But he helped me to change my attitude.”
Since then Si has worked off all of his grade 11, and is now completing grade 12. His aim is university entrance and a degree in social work.
How does someone in his condition study? He listens to tapes and his tutor. The tutor then reads him the questions, he figures them out in his mind, then answers “orally.” His tutor reads his lips, writes down the answers, and sends them to the Alberta Correspondence School to be graded. It is a slow, tedious way to study, but Si quips, “I’m getting better marks than I ever did before.”
While Si has learned to receive graciously, he has also learned to give unselfishly. He has counseled with many depressed and troubled people who are struggling to face their own handicaps and difficulties, and all have gone away lifted.
His deep empathy for the feelings and problems of others has also helped him reach out and bring people into the Church or back into activity.
One of them, a nurse in the hospital where Si lives, remembers, “I first heard about the Church during my 3 A.M. discussions with Si. He gave definition to many basic feelings I’d had all my life. Then he asked me if I’d be willing to listen to the missionaries, and I did. I was baptized in August 1983.”
David McTavish is another of the many whose lives Si has touched. “Coming back from inactivity, at first I felt uncomfortable with Si. But the example of his acceptance of the Church and his faith, plus my many discussions with him, have helped me to handle the obstacles between me and the Church. He has also given me a freedom not to be afraid of the kind of person I am.”
If you were to stop by Si’s room unannounced, you would probably find him working on his computer or with his earphones on, listening to one of his many tapes: the standard works (he’s listened to them all at least four times each), conference talks, great books from the Library for the Visually Impaired, course tapes, or music ranging from the Tabernacle Choir to classics to popular.
Si’s independence was greatly increased by the TOSC-2 control unit, which the Alberta Rehabilitation Council installed for him in 1978. By touching the control lever with his lower lip, he can turn on or off everything that is hooked into this touch-operated system control unit. He can even call a nurse with it. Now he has a modified personal computer that can be merged with the TOSC-2. This allows him, for the first time in ten years, to write his own messages. “This opens up lots of things that have been closed to me,” he says. “I can use it to work on my education. Then I’ll write a book about my life. Also, after more training, maybe I’ll compose some music.”
Undoubtedly much of Si’s strength comes from the gospel. He has been an elder since November, 1977. And on June 22, 1982, he traveled over 300 miles to the Alberta Temple in Cardston to receive his endowments.
Si calmly accepts his paralysis, but it is not easy to live as he does. Aside from the obvious discomforts and limitations, he also endures the side effects of it all. For example, because he is constantly on the respirator, his blood gasses get out of balance, causing him severe hallucinations. He has had many, many near-fatal moments when his respirator has failed. He has suffered cardiac arrest, pneumonia again and again, kidney stones, stomach ulcers, and strokes. But his faith in his Heavenly Father is unshaken.
So is his sense of humor. There is usually a smile on Si’s face, and he loves a good practical joke. When his mother went to the hospital recently for her daily visit, she was in for a shock. Two orderlies were sitting grim faced near Si’s room, and his door was closed. She opened the door and went in.
Si’s room was darkened, and he was covered with a white sheet. Anita’s heart faltered. She walked over and pulled back the sheet. Si was laughing! Then the orderlies came in, and they were laughing too.
Si had struck again! No one is safe from his jokes, and no one would want to be, because they are as full of fun and laughter as he is himself.
Si is an inspiration to his whole family. His youngest sister, Barbie, reflects, “Sometimes I wish I could make him better, but then I think no, because he’s blessed so many people’s lives.”
Si’s father, Dr. Frank Peterson, concludes, “It’s too bad that he’s immobilized, but everything else about this has been positive. I’m proud of him.”
Si has a firm testimony, and he bears it frequently. His mom reads his lips and then gives voice to his feelings to the accompaniment of the rhythmic hum of his respirator.
“One of the main purposes of this earth life is to be tried, to prove ourselves worthy to return to our Heavenly Father, and so trials that come to us are an important part of our lives. Every one of us will be tried in one way or another. The important thing is how we accept our trials and grow from them. They can be stumbling blocks or stepping stones.
“I am grateful for my membership in the true and living Church, and I am grateful for the priesthood that I hold. I am grateful for my family who loves and supports me, and for the many others who help me so much. I know that my Heavenly Father lives and that he hears and answers my prayers. I am grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ, and for his sacrifice for me. I know that my accident had a special purpose in my Heavenly Father’s plan for me.
“I feel fortunate that the trial I have been given is so apparent that I receive a lot of encouragement and help from many people. Your trials may be just as difficult as mine, but perhaps not as apparent, and so I pray that you will be able to accept them and have the strength to endure and grow from them.”
This thought is typical of Si Peterson. Trapped inside the prison of his own motionless body, with every possible excuse to turn his thoughts bitterly inward, his mind reaches out to others in prayer and service. Even lying flat on his back, he is a giant. If you’re ever in Edmonton, do yourself a favor and meet him. Si Peterson—a typical young Latter-day Saint and a one-of-a-kind human being.