Strength in Numbers

I did not ask Christy Rolley if she likes the Beatles. We talked about her sledding accident, the long coming renovations to the Newburgh, Ind., home of her family of six, and the schedules of her active grade-school-aged children. We discussed her upcoming chemotherapy treatments, the vicious infection she battled after her double mastectomy, the style the former hair stylist might try with her wig, and the amazing network of lifelong and new friends, family, area businesses, churches, and educators who have lent support to the Rolleys — first when Christy was paralyzed, and continuing through her diagnosis of breast cancer last fall.

As we talked, I was reminded of the Beatles tune about love being given and received in equal measure.

“Christy never complains,” says friend Lisa Keith of Henderson, Ky.

“Christy is the same person she always was,” echoes friend Jill Lucy of Newburgh, Ind.

“Christy is one of a kind,” says friend Angela Hammelman, also of Newburgh, Ind. “She didn’t change a bit.”

Christy says, “I feel like I took from them once, and here I’m back now, with even stronger needs.”

On Jan. 31, 2010, Christy, now 46, was in a sledding accident at Helfrich Hills Golf Course on the city’s West Side. A slow moving winter storm had left Evansville with eight inches of snow, and like many families, the Rolleys headed to the hills for fun. Christy and her four children — William, Ellen, Isaac, and Sam — were sledding with Christy’s sister, Cathy, and her two children, Jacob and Emma. Late that afternoon, Christy struck a tree while sledding on a tube with Emma. In a split-second reflex, Christy threw Emma from the tube and she was not injured. Christy, however, struck her head and back. She was transported to Deaconess Hospital, where an MRI confirmed she fractured her T8 and T9 vertebrae and sustained a spinal injury, paralyzing her from her sternum down. Later that week, Christy underwent a six-hour stabilization surgery to repair the broken vertebrae.

On Feb. 12, Christy was flown to Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta to begin three months of therapy. Her lifelong friend Jill Keepes traveled with her.

While Christy was at the Shepherd Center, her husband of 16 years (they dated for 10 years before they married), Randy, an Evansville native and pharmaceutical sales representative, and a network of friends began organizing the daunting tasks ahead of the family. Among them was navigating the federal vocational rehabilitation services program that eventually, more than two years later, helped provide the extensive home renovations necessary to accommodate Christy.

Today, thanks to a wide circle of people who have pitched in, including builders John Mattingly and his son, Jeremy, and home remodeler Ron Shekell, the master bedroom and bath are now on the first floor, an elevator transports Christy to the upstairs bedrooms of her children, and the former kitchen has been gutted and rebuilt as handicap accessible.

The home renovations were underway on Oct. 18 last year when Christy discovered a lump in her breast. Cancer was confirmed, and Christy underwent a double mastectomy. Before reconstruction surgery could be scheduled, a serious infection set in at the surgical site. Christy says that was the worst she ever had felt.

She now receives chemotherapy treatments, which conclude in May.

“Christy is so positive; such a fighter,” says Lucy. “The breast cancer was such a blow, though, because all she has is her upper body, and then to have a double mastectomy and a serious infection, and now chemotherapy. Nothing is easy for Christy, but this woman will get there.”

Christy, a native of Tell City, Ind., has no memory of the sledding accident. Her family talks about sledding, and if the winter had presented enough snow, she suspects her children would have enjoyed sledding. “They are not fearful,” she says.

Her head now is shaved. Son Sam helped his mom cut her hair — in the special salon sink installed at waist level — and buzzed his own hair in a sweet show of support.

“It takes a village,” Christy says. “And I have a wonderful village.”

The Rolleys have many people they would like to thank. To read more about Christy Rolley and the community who has helped her family, please visit:

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