Many may think life is hard until they read what Tyler Sexton and his mom Lisa battled.
Ty’s difficult birth in 1985 challenged his family and required a 95-day hospitalization. He was developmentally delayed, and at 18 months, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which caused abnormal motor function with muscle stiffness, poor posture and involuntary actions.
Ty had 17 surgeries by middle school. Some were horrible ordeals, entailing weeks of painful rehab. He learned to walk with a walker and eventually without a walker, but he had many falls, sometimes breaking bones.
Ty grew up with his best friend being fun-loving, cheerful, positive Dr. Greg, who shattered the pediatrician mold with zany, childish actions—like jumping, wild clothes and a dinosaur-motif stethoscope. He saw Ty as a normal boy with some medical issues but with a full life before him.
While discouraging, pessimistic doctors said what Ty could not do, Dr. Greg inspired and cheered Ty on to reach his dreams.
Besides his church family, Ty received encouragement from physical therapist Michelle Larson. Honest about his challenges, she helped him reach his potential, lifting a huge family burden.
She trained him over months for an Easter egg hunt. When it began, Lisa cried when all the kids ran off, leaving Ty at the start. But he managed to follow and fill a basket with dropped eggs. She felt God say, “I need you to give this little boy to Me. His basket may not always be full, and he won’t be first in everything … but he will be blessed beyond measure. I need you to trust Me.” And she did.
In his worst day in elementary school, an insensitive, substitute PE teacher insulted his athleticism. Lisa got the teacher and school to make amends and taught Ty, “You are who you are. God made you that way, and God doesn’t make junk. If substitute teachers or other people don’t see you as the unique and wonderful boy you are, that’s their problem …. You is who God made you to be. You is who your mom and dad love with all our hearts …. Be OK with how God made you, and do the best with what you’ve got.”
Like others, Ty wanted to fit in and be accepted, but classmates regularly bullied and taunted him with names, like Penguin. At school dances, girls always rejected his requests to dance.
Eventually, despite daily humiliation, frustration and loneliness, Ty still saw “that I was A-OK. Other people might not always see me that way, but from now on, that would be their problem, not mine.” If persecuted Christians could praise God, “I can certainly praise You while I struggle with my less-than-perfect body.” The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
A 2004 Houston-airport meeting with a kind, service-dog handler eventuated in Ty gaining his college and med-school best friend: his protective service dog, Danny, which was “the best medicine I ever had.” In their 12 years together, Ty never broke a bone. He co-founded a charity to similarly bless others.
After qualifying to enter top medical schools, he got his worst discrimination. A dean rejected and crushed him: “On paper you look amazing, but I don’t think you’ll fit in here.” Ty soldiered on as “a man on a mission. I wanted everyone to know that people … with disabilities like mine, can contribute much to society.”
He graduated from a Caribbean med school, married his classmate, Laura, did his residency in Mobile, and now is a pediatrician in Mississippi.
When asked if he’d choose to relive his life without CP, he replied, “No, I embrace life with CP. My life is richer because of it.”
Richard Penn is a member of Southeast.