Jennifer MacDonald spoke of God's help through her many trials after hitting her head while snowboarding when she was 14.

WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR

Jennifer MacDonald spoke of God's help through her many trials after hitting her head while snowboarding when she was 14.

March 23, 2015
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Pain-wracked, 19-year-old Jennifer MacDonald said, "OK God, you can take me now. I can't do this anymore.

"I'll always remember this moment, looking at the wall and thinking, 'I am going to die now.' I've always been very scared of death. . . . Sometimes it's hard to face our own mortality."

Looking at the turquoise wall in the Stollery Children's Hospital she told her mother, "I love you Mom."

Her mother whispered in her ear. "I love you, and Jesus and Mary are with you."

Instead of fear, the critically ill teen "felt warmth, love, as though I was being held."

She was on life support for two weeks, "which was probably the hardest two weeks of my life."

MacDonald, now 22, in her March 14 talk to a charismatic breakfast at the Chateau Louis Conference Centre, told her story of coming close to death and her journey back.

A normal teen, she fell while snowboarding at age 14 and hit her head.

The head injury triggered her "getting a really rare disease called myasthenia gravis. Your immune system attacks the connection between your nerves."

So she went from being a completely normal teenager to something that was "totally like a vegetable. I couldn't move. I couldn't talk."

Her left eyelid drooped. It was hard to hold her head up.

Finally, she could not walk. So she was in and out of the Stollery Children's Hospital for two years.

MacDonald, a member of Sherwood Park's Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, told the rapt audience even normal teenagers have difficulties during those years. And here she was facing death.

BACK TO SCHOOL

After two years, she went back to school. "I got bullied a lot. I got told 'You're fat. You're ugly. You are making all this up.' It was definitely a hard time."

Then a gift from heaven arrived and MacDonald got to make a wish from the Make a Wish Foundation. She walked the red carpet at the People's Choice Awards.

She explained she wanted "a remembrance – not something I could buy."

Six months later, she had surgery to remove her thymus gland (a gland between the lungs and heart).

"For four years I was completely cured. I went to World Youth Day, high school."

But in 2011, she ended up getting really sick again.

Her doctor told her it was all in her head, that she would never get her disease back. "Turns out I did, and I got it really bad."

WAYS WE DON'T UNDERSTAND

She broke off her story to tell the audience, "For me, God works in ways we don't understand or always see. He brings people into my life. He worked through others for me."

Returning to her narrative, MacDonald told of sitting in the hospital waiting room and her diaphragm muscle started to collapse. "I was slowly melting in my chair."

Her mother, a nurse, knew it was serious and called for help. The teenager pulled out of it and was on life support for two weeks. In ICU, she had to undergo surgery.

"Any type of sedation would completely shut off everything in my body. They put a 16-inch tube into my neck.

"I remember looking at my mom and thinking 'Why is this happening to me? Why do I have to go through this?'"

She closed her eyes while they put a feeding tube down her throat.

Again, God intervened.

The family priest, who happened to be in the hospital at the time, saw MacDonald's mother in the hall and came in and gave her daughter the Sacrament of the Sick.

MacDonald said then she knew Jesus had not abandoned her.

"Every time I have a dark moment it is like Jesus on the cross. 'Why have you abandoned me?' But he doesn't. He brings people in to help you. That is when he is carrying you. You don't realize this until afterwards."

She spent a month in the hospital having "really bad chemotherapy, throwing up every day. It was really expensive. My wonderful parents paid for it."

She found comfort in Romans 8.18 – "What we will suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later."

"It really resonated with me."

ATTACKS ARE MILDER

MacDonald is slowly getting better. Every eight months she has another attack. But they are getting milder each time.

"Less of the aches and pains, less of the pokes and prods."

She also recommended the book

Redeeming Love where one of the characters says to God, "Why are you doing this to me?" God replies, "To make you stronger for what is to come."

MacDonald agreed with this, saying, "There are times I have had to go through things and I would not have had the strength to go through them if I had not gone through this beforehand."

She gave a dramatic example.

ANOTHER CRASH

On Dec. 31, 2013, her brother Chris fell snowboarding in Lake Louise, broke his neck and had blood clots in the brain.

"I went from being the sick one to watching it."

Chris is alive, working, intellect fully intact. "It is a miracle. The doctors don't even understand it."

Her life too is full with her studies in psychology and design at the University of Alberta and she plans to be married next summer.

Explaining why she brought her story to the charismatic breakfast, the smiling young woman said, "Volunteering is my way to be Christ to other people. He brought people into my life so I need to bring him to other people.

"You can be that light to someone else in that moment of complete despair. It has been a hard life, but God has gotten me through it."