MT. VERNON — A riveting testimony of faith and courage was presented by bi-lateral amputee Loretta Goebel at Friday's annual Mt. Vernon Prayer Breakfast.
Goebel was diagnosed with strep toxic shock on Dec. 11, 2001, following a freak accident when she injured her hand in a rush to answer the front door. Only 20 percent of those who contact strep toxic shock survive, Goebel reported.
"That blunt trauma is what changed my life forever," she said. "I had a crack in my thumb. I babied that crack. I put lotion on my hands, antibacterial cream, and wore socks to bed so I wouldn't get any more cracks. But what I didn't know on that Tuesday morning was that harboring inside was a strep germ."
Goebel was still not feeling well later in the week, eventually visiting her family physician, who treated her with influenza fluids and bed rest. On Sunday, she was awakened by a severe pain in her arm.
A visit to the emergency room resulted in an intravenous antibiotic, pain medication and prescriptions for oral antibiotics.
As a result, she missed a Christmas program at her church that evening. Her then husband, Wally, took children Mitch and Melissa to church and passed on his narration part to another parishioner and returned home.
"I had no idea of the severity of my health at that moment," she said, noting that she fell to her knees in a bathroom. "I didn't know that death was right around the corner, but arising at the emergency room the second time that day, my blood pressure was 40 over 20 and I had no registering body temperature."
After several tests, Goebel was taken to a larger medical facility. Her husband told her to fight and Goebel gave her husband a thumbs up.
"They pumped 70 pounds of fluid on my body to keep pressure on my internal organs as my kidneys and liver are failing. I am hooked up to life support and unresponsive to my kids' touch and unable to hear about the Christmas program," she recalled.
On Dec. 19, Goebel's husband was told medical personnel had done everything possible, and family members were called to be with her in her final days.
"My family was with me at home, but not to celebrate the holidays, and do the things we had prepared and planned for. My sisters were asked to plan my funeral," Goebel said.
Christmas was spent in an intensive care unit, with family and friends joining in singing carols and music from the church program the previous evening. After singing "Shout to the Lord," Goebel said tears ran down her cheeks, and "at that point, my health took a turn. I am a Christmas miracle," she said, although Christmas wasn't officially celebrated until January at her home.
In February 2002, Goebel lost both of her legs by amputation. In April, she had hand surgery on her right hand; in July on her left hand.
Most bi-lateral amputees are required to have a lengthy rehabilitation following surgery; Goebel spent just two days in the hospital and went home for rehabilitation.
In March she was equipped with a prosthesis hand and legs.
"That day I was praying for and praising God for was horrendous. The pain made my body drench in sweat. I don't know that I could handle it and the flame that I so desperately tried to keep lit is now dwindling," she said.
The next day she received a call from Heather Mills McCartney, the Beatles' Paul's ex-wife, also an amputee. The call was arranged by one of Goebel's church friends. They talked for 45 minutes.
Goebel and her husband divorced in 2008, "another casualty of the strep germ," she said, adding they remain good friends and on the same page for their children.
"Yes, I've had my bad days and I call it being pruned down to Loretta in the rough. My hair came out in hand fuels, I had scars on both sides of my mouth from where they placed the life support bit in at normal weight and when they filled my body full of fluid it split my skin. I have three 3 1/2 inch scars on my side where they kept my body open chasing the infection as they whisked me into surgery multiple times," she said, demonstrating her missing body parts simultaneously.
"I had a choice to make and I chose to rebloom. The way I see it, I have a job to do. I didn't know an amputee before I became one and God put Heather in my life, and she was my vision of hope. I want to be a vision of hope, not just to amputees, but to anyone with a handicap. My definition of that is it is something that prohibits you from living everyday to its fullest as God intended," she said.
"I continue to pray for that gift of tomorrow. If I didn't have that gift, I wouldn't be here with you this morning. I believed I survived because of God's plan for me," she concluded.
Musical selections were provided at the breakfast by the Mt. Vernon Township High School Choir, Sweet Adelines and Daniel and Dennis Southerd with Cort Jones, and Dee Ann Schnautz. A 911 tribute video with Kent Renshaw singing "God Bless the USA" was also presented.
About 500 people attended the event held at the Holiday Inn.