Ronald McDonald House
Through the Pain, Inspiring Others
By Gene Davis
Her dazzling smile and sparkling blue eyes belie her serious condition, and it isn’t until you see the tentative steps she takes on short excursions from her wheelchair that you realize the challenges she and her family overcome each day.
Recently, 15–year–old Tehya Foussat and her mother Christine, who live in the San Diego area, were guests at the Judd Hillside Ronald McDonald House while Tehya was being treated at a Honolulu hospital. It was a homecoming for them, since they had stayed at the House for three weeks back in 1998 when Tehya was three–and–a–half years old. “I remember the playroom,” giggles Tehya. It was another sort of homecoming too, since Christine graduated from Radford High School and Tehya was born at Kapiolani Medical Center.
Tehya has been dealing with Spina Bifida her entire life. The condition, a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord and/or its coverings, was diagnosed during Christine’s late term ultrasound. At the time, doctors warned Christine and dad, Tony that Tehya might have little to no quality of life. They said she would probably never walk, and that the odds were not in her favor. But as you will read, Tehya has defied those odds.
When Tehya was four months old she had her first spinal cord surgery to try to repair some of the unique issues specific to Tehya’s Spina Bifida condition. After that, Tehya did really well for several years. “She was strong and relatively healthy,” tells mom. “Besides her Spina Bifida, she never got sick.” Mom and dad did not want to limit her. “We told her she could do anything she wanted to do, and we would support her every step of the way,” Christine recounts. Tehya found her passion in gymnastics and cheerleading and remarkably, became a champion, competing in national competitions three years in a row. Yes, the girl who wasn’t supposed to walk thrived in her no limits environment and was even able to tumble and cheer with her teammates.
Then one day when Tehya was about 12 she said, “Mommy, my little toes are numb.” When the numbness spread, and because of her medical history, surgeons operated again on her spinal cord. “After that surgery she seemed to be doing well and went back to school,” Christine says. “But then within two months she couldn’t even get out of bed.”
Tehya started having severe headaches, and vision and hearing issues. Her body functions suffered. Her calves began to atrophy, and it was very difficult for her to even walk. Christine began to frantically search for answers and the family traveled to New York for an assessment by Spina Bifida specialists. Many of their questions were answered there, but they decided not to have the radical surgery recommended by doctors. Instead they returned home and took a different approach. They incorporated some alternative therapies including a special diet of natural foods, vitamin supplements, and physical therapy.
Knowing that Tehya did not want to give up her passion for gymnastics and cheerleading, her father Tony, himself a Triathlete, began working out with her in the swimming pool and gym. Although Tehya couldn’t quite regain the same agility and fitness that she had before the major surgery, she still was able to return to Oak Valley Middle school for eighth grade and excel through all of the pain. She maintained a 4.0 GPA, was elected Student Body President, and earned the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence. In addition, she received The Heart of Oak Valley Award, which recognized and celebrated her ability to inspire her School Community, while consistently demonstrating the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. And yes, she was also able to return to the cheerleading squad. “Mom, when I’m cheering, I don’t feel the pain,” she would say.
Tehya refuses to be a victim. “There are no bad days, just bad attitudes,” is her mantra. She says that she cannot imagine her life without Spina Bifida. “It is part of who I am, and I wouldn’t be the person that I am without it.”
The Foussats have stayed at three different Ronald McDonald Houses as they have traveled to places seeking treatment for Tehya. “I know it sounds really mundane,” Christine says. “But to be able to leave the hospital and go to wash clothes gives me a sense of comfort and normalcy. Sitting down to eat a meal that someone in the community has made for me and the other families, is so meaningful. It was home cooked with their good intentions and it was made to help a family that they may not even know. It’s those little things that really, really matter. The feeling we get here is that everyone genuinely cares.”
Tehya, (who says the Ronald McDonald House in Hawaii is the best one for making new friends with other kids), spent the summer battling severe Spina Bifida complications at home, but was able to join her friends at Del Norte High School for her sophomore year. This school year she is: Sophomore Class President JV Cheerleading Captain Assistant Choreographer for Glee Club and Red Cross Club Member.
It is clear that Tehya is living life to its fullest: learning, loving, giving, and touching everyone she comes in contact with.