In an interview with Maurice Broadus, Jim Stovall, best-selling author of The “Ultimate Gift”, said, “it takes a life-altering event to move from religion to relationship.” Mr. Stovall further elaborated that “one’s faith has to go from a theory that you take down and polish off on Sunday mornings to something real that you can live with.” In the case of Cynthia Paddock Doroghazi, suffering through a traumatic brain injury (TBI) was the life altering event that ultimately moved her from religion to relationship.
Cynthia was in her second semester as a candidate for a master’s degree at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D. C. when symptoms of hydrocephalus, more commonly known as water on the brain, intruded into her daily routine. The procedure used to correct this condition is considered routine in the realm of brain surgery as the patient is in and out of the hospital in four days, with a recovery period of about two weeks.
God apparently had other plans for Cynthia. After the operation, Cynthia was transferred from the recovery room to the Neurological Concentrated Care Unit. While there, Cynthia began to hemorrhage. The bleed began to compress her brain, cutting off the flow of oxygen.
By the time the nurse in charge of Cynthia’s care perceived the gravity of Cynthia’s deteriorating condition and notified the resident on call, Cynthia was experiencing respiratory failure. Cynthia was twenty minutes away from death before the nurse called the resident on duty.
Upon examining Cynthia, the resident called a code blue, and she was rushed back into surgery, where a procedure to cut away part of her skull to evacuate the blood was performed. Cynthia slid into a coma, moving in and out of a semi-vegetative state for the next three months. At the time of her transfer from her hospital in Washington, D.C. to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, Cynthia was paralyzed on the left side of her body, with the IQ of a vegetable, in diapers, being fed through a tube, able to remember very little and facing the prospect of having to relearn what a baby learns in the first years of life.
The events surrounding that tragic day, May 7, 1990, ultimately set Cynthia on a journey to discover who she was and for what purpose she was on this earth. In short, it brought about a spiritual awakening movies. Cynthia recounts this amazing journey in her recently published book, Searching for the Open Door: A Woman’s Struggle for Survival After a Traumatic Brain Injury [http://www.newriverpublications.com/Searching_for_the_Open_Door.html].
When people experience any kind of misfortune, devastating disease, or loss, it is not unusual for them to end up bitter and angry. Cynthia, too, continued to be bitter and angry for years. Then, one Sunday, about a year after her release from Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, Cynthia attended a church in San Antonio, Texas where the pastor delivered a sermon about a shepherd and one sheep that was always running off into the woods, getting lost or otherwise getting into mischief. After several failed attempts at discipline, the shepherd finally broke the sheep’s legs and then carried him on his back until the sheep’s legs healed. From that moment forward, the sheep never strayed far from his master’s side. That sermon really spoke to Cynthia, because, in many respects, the story of that sheep was, from Cynthia’s standpoint, her story.
Hearing that parable was the beginning of Cynthia’s spiritual awakening, a process that has taken more than fifteen years of her life. This spiritual awakening did not occur overnight. Upon returning to Washington, D.C. in 1992, Cynthia started going to church, more as a social outlet than to commune with God. Nevertheless, Cynthia’s feelings began to change with each Sunday visit to church. The pastor at the church constantly preached the “Good News,” the Gospel, and the fact that, as an example of the ultimate sacrifice and an example of all that a parent will do to save his child, God sent his only son to live on this earth as a human and to ultimately die for the sins of the whole world so that we mortals could be reconciled forever to Him.
“Who was this God?” Cynthia asked. “Who was this God, who was so loving and self-sacrificing that he would do this? Was this the same God, she asked, “who had left me paralyzed and in a coma and forced me to abandon my chosen career path? What kind of God was this that would force me to live with a traumatic brain injury (TBI)?”
Accepting she could never answer these questions, Cynthia decided to make some sense of her own situation. So, she began to search for the meaning of her existence in an attempt to discover why she was literally saved from death. Did this God that she was hearing so much about have a plan for her life as the Old Testament of the Bible says in Jeremiah, Chapter 29, verse 11? “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” If so, what was it?
In embarking upon this search, Cynthia tried to answer the questions: “How can a person enter the hospital for what is supposed to be a routine operation and end up paralyzed on the left side of her body, in a coma, unable to walk or talk, being fed through a tube, with the I.Q. of a vegetable?” And, “How is it that same person, whom doctors predicted would be in an institution for the rest of her life and unable to continue along her chosen career path, survive the odds and live to fight another day?” How indeed?
Cynthia found inspiration from a scene from the movie, The Sound of Music. In this scene, The Mother Superior calls Maria before her to ask why she has run away from the Von Trapp family household and is seeking refuge in the convent from which she had come. The viewer ultimately discovers that Maria has fallen in love with Captain Von Trapp and, out of fear of the unknown and because she had no experience in how to deal with such a situation, she fled. The Mother Superior says to Maria, “When God shuts a door. He almost always opens a window.”