Things Aren’t Always As They Seem

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by Helen Baldwin |

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yo-yoing | SMA News Today | main graphic for column titled "We're Not in Kansas Anymore," by Helen Baldwin, depicting a blue wave offset by green nature scenes

I helped my husband, Randy, pluck raspberries from our bountiful bushes the other evening.

Shortly after sampling our red, squishy haul, I removed my Crocs to get ready for a shower. Whoa. My eyeballs popped when I spied what looked like blood on the bottom of my foot. As a boo-boo magnet with a high tolerance for pain (translation: not always totally aware), I quickly felt around for a cut. I found nothing suspicious.

During a proverbial head-scratching, it occurred to me that a raspberry had probably fallen through one of the Croc holes and slid down under my foot.

And that reminded me of blueberries.


My family purchased a lodge and cabins on the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway along the Appalachian Mountains in the late summer of 1995. My friendly, conscientious, and generous parents were naturals as innkeepers, enjoying friendships with many of their guests even after selling the lodge years later.

In an impressive stroke of angelic intervention, my parents were able to purchase an old farmhouse just down the short road from Randy and me. They replaced the uninhabitable house with a new one and proceeded to dabble in their first sampling of true retirement. They were in no hurry to unpack, as they had all the time in the world.

Or so it seemed.

Three months later, my father was diagnosed with “masses.” Dad opted for alternative protocols.

The search for a successful holistic plan didn’t stop until we found one that seemed sensible and relatively simple to follow. However, on the day Dad mentioned that a Hardee’s Thickburger and a Wendy’s Frosty sure sounded good, they were procured in record speed. Both were likely banned from The Plan, but it remains one thing I’m grateful we did.

Dad’s condition continued to slide. Not wanting to alarm Mom, my brother, Paul, a physician, provided me with a what-to-watch-for list. Nothing on the list was pleasant, but one item stood out: blood oozing from any number of orifices.

Shortly after a visit from Paul and my sister-in-law, Jaymie, Mom announced she was going to take a shower while I was available to sit with Dad. I didn’t turn on any lights, hoping he could drift off to sleep. I looked at him in the darkening room and noticed in horror dark liquid trickling from the corner of his mouth.

Oh no.

I wanted desperately to holler for Paul and Jaymie to turn right back around, but their two-hour trek home took them through several extended dead cellphone zones. I tried in vain to think of a grand scheme that would keep Mom from seeing the blood and whatever else might follow. Until I could conjure up something brilliant in what was left of my mind, I snagged a paper towel and wiped Dad’s mouth and chin — and noticed that the “blood” was blue.

I remembered we’d given him blueberries earlier.


While the natural regimen didn’t thwart God’s Plan to heal my father in the earthly sense, the dreaded side effects, even blue ones, were minimal at most. In fact, Dad’s complexion appeared so rejuvenated when he took his last breath, it seemed he was napping, ready to bounce back at any moment.

Actually, he was ready to bounce back. Just not here.

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Delayed parenthood for Randy and me enabled us both to return to school for teacher certification before moving from our beloved Fort Worth, Texas, to Columbia, South Carolina. My special education credentials landed me a position as a kindergarten teacher at Brockman, a self-contained school for students with orthopedic and multiple other conditions. With new Brockman friendships and a fantastic assistant, it seemed the perfect teaching job.

It ended up teaching me perfectly as well.


Our children, Matthew and Katie, were born in Columbia. When Randy took a job in North Carolina, we eventually found ourselves in the mountains near the family’s new lodge venture.

Thanks to the fertile mountain air (or something), our family expanded unexpectedly. Jeffrey arrived two weeks ahead of schedule to a doting family. Standing strong in my lap within the first few days, he was as perfect as Matthew and Katie.

We were blessed — way more than we realized.

Twenty-four years ago today, our seemingly perfect bonus baby was diagnosed with the severest form of SMA. Frantically searching for a magical cure, I threw myself a pity party or two (or more) before recognizing the blessings of this devastating diagnosis.

There were many: witnessing the power of faith and prayer, piecing together many of life’s experiences (such as Brockman, where some of my students’ needs had been like Jeffrey’s), indelible friendships, laughter, and so much more, all of which remain steadfast today.

Sometimes things aren’t as they seem.

They’re even better.

SMA News Today, a photo of columnist Helen Baldwin's berry-producing Hypericum shrubs.

Sometimes things aren’t as they seem in the garden, either. The Hypericum Mystical Red Star still surprises in 2021. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

SMA News Today, a photo of columnist Helen Baldwin's berry-producing Hypericum shrubs.

(Photo by Helen Baldwin)


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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