She looks so small, I thought, like a baby bird fallen from the nest and helpless to gravity. When I first met Anne Belohorec she was strapped into an electric wheelchair with two wide belts cinched tightly around her torso holding her upright.
She wore a neck brace to support her head, which she could barely rotate right or left without pain and muscle spasm. Anne wore splints on both wrists. Her legs lay inert. Her mind was imprisoned in an unheeding body. I had no way of knowing upon meeting Anne that working with her would change our lives and the way I would practice forever after.
I had just given a talk at the Edmonton Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. In sharp juxtaposition to her physical appearance, Anne s blue eyes were excited and inquisitive. She asked if I could help her. I had only been out of Massage Therapy training a year at that point, so I was too young and full of missionary zeal to say no.
Thursday afternoons were all for Anne. I drove to her home just outside Edmonton. I had great compassion for Anne – the former cancer nurse specialist stricken with Morbid Multiple Sclerosis that took so much from her. She had faced death and terrible medical trials several times. I had been blessed in life and it appeared Anne had been, by most measurements, cursed.
She was in constant pain. She had been struck with immobility quickly with three preschoolers at home. She lived with a daily test I knew in my heart I could not have faced. That was the root of my compassion.
The first treatment was simple relaxation massage. After the session, I asked her about her level of pain. She thought for a moment and said: “It s different.” Pressing her for details, we realized simultaneously that by “different” she meant that there was no pain. She was astonished and I pretended not to be. Our journey began.
Three weeks of every month, I worked with Anne. Swedish Massage melded into visualization and Reiki. Exercise helped to bring old patterns back or to create new movement patterns where nerves no longer worked. Careful, sensitive-touch was key. Anne experienced dramatic emotional releases several times per session. To an outside observer, it would appear she was having twisting fits that could tortuously contort her small body with spasm. There was so much emotional and spiritual conflict to clear away before the physical changes could take hold.
Anne is the single most persistent person I’ve ever met. She was determined to heal for her own health and for the good of her family. Even before her healing began she ran her household, raised her children and was as active as anyone could be working with a body that would not obey her brain’s commands.
Throughout her long, painful recovery, she continued to act as a person who was not ill. MS ruled her body but not her life. She gained local celebrity as a spokesperson for the MS Society, used the phone to reach out to fellow sufferers, served on numerous committees and babysat a neighbor’s child after school each day.
She paid me with the babysitting money she earned herself. The rewards far surpassed that, however. The milestones came slowly at first, but each one was worth the effort and greater than the last.
The fight to regain her health and mobility was more than simply combating a capricious neurological disease through mechanical means. Our journey together was often about healing emotional wounds that could obstruct normal movement of nerve energy. My original training had been that of a medical model Massage Therapist. Working with Anne’s nervous system I felt more like an esoteric electrician. To get Anne to the light, we had to first travel some dark places together.
Her body would twist and contort as her mind revisited the damaging traumas. Anne often looked like she would choke to death. We knew we could wait and it would pass. It was not easy to watch her in misery, but after each episode and a day or two to recover, she would gain strength, mobility or feeling. We learned together how to reframe painful past events and release them.
I gained confidence in my intuition working with Anne which has served other patients well, too. As Anne began to visibly recover, other MS patients began to see that the world was yet full of possibility where the cynicism of others had once stolen hope.
Our sessions lasted two – and sometimes three hours. I didn’t mind. We talked, me playing both cheerleader and coach. She cried often and we laughed often giving life to our spark of hope.
With each success, that spark grew. I had the pleasure of knowing that I was helping someone, maybe more than I would ever help anyone for the rest of my life. I prayed every time I drove out to see her – I prayed that the help would match hope’s promise.
Thirteen years after she was paralyzed by MS and made nearly a quadriplegic, Anne began to walk again. Then she started getting stronger and stronger. We had worked hard together for over a year to get that first step. Then the milestones kept coming.
One spring day she was standing by her house and a neighbor pulled into his driveway. He had never seen Anne out of her wheelchair and, as he caught sight of her in his rear-view mirror, he slammed his car right into his garage door.
Anne traveled all the way to Israel to receive a humanitarian award for her work with the MS Society. Later that year she decided she wanted to drive again. I tried to dissuade her because of my concern about her reaction time. Her maiden name had been Galbraith. Whenever she set her jaw in determination to do what she wanted to do, I kidded and told her that I could see the “Galbraith jaw.”
I saw it often. She earned her driver’s license without any problems. Then she sold her electric wheelchair and tore down the ramp to her front door. There was no going back.
After two-and-a-half years, I faced a personal crisis. My fiancee, Janice, had completed her work for her PhD at the University of Alberta and it was time, as we had planned, to return to her career in Ontario. I considered returning, but I knew for Anne, and a couple of other clients I was committed to, I had to stay one more year.
To her credit, Janice agreed without hesitation. I had a mission and my work was not done. She honoured that and left for Ontario. I stayed in Edmonton alone. By that time, Anne could drive to my office, but she had to pull herself up the steep flight of stairs to the second floor. She had to do it sitting down. The trips up and down the stairs became part of her rehabilitation program.
We continued our work and the next spring Anne’s endurance had improved immensely and she walked three kilometres in a fundraiser for the MS Society with me and Edmonton’s mayor by her side.
A year later, my fiancée returned to Alberta and Anne was a guest at our wedding. Our time in Alberta was coming to an end and I had closed my office. I could leave now with my beautiful bride and a sense of completion.
On our way to the airport, Janice and I stopped at Anne’s house one last time to say our goodbyes. Anne proudly showed us a new feat of her remarkable recovery. She walked up and down her porch stairs normally, unaided, one foot after the other. I had worked with Anne for more than three years. She had accomplished the impossible ... the formerly impossible. She still has MS, but she manages her symptoms and has recovered far more than her doctors predicted. In fact, she has run into several doctors from her darkest days who are surprised she is not long dead. As to her recovery, they are flummoxed.
We speak on the phone often and she visits us in Ontario for a week once a year. When my daughter was born, Anne suggested her name and we went with it, “Ciara.” Once my client, bound to a wheelchair, Anne Belohorec is now a walking miracle. Thanks to her I have a new definition of friend. A friend is someone whose presence inspires and elevates you to be the best you can be.
Long before she exited her wheelchair, I told Anne that she would heal others some day.
True to my word, Anne has travelled to various destinations to take courses and, today, she helps people in her own holistic practice. Anne also speaks many times a year to numerous health professionals and self-help groups interested in esoteric healing. In addition to her busy practice, Anne teaches light touch therapies, Pathology and Clinical & Hospital Massage at Somatics Institute in Edmonton, Alberta.
I’m proud to be her Massage Therapist. She is a reminder to all healing professions what can happen if we can put our egos, agendas and preconceived beliefs aside. We have the capacity to do so much, if the mind and the spirit are willing.
Faith in the wisdom of an organizing intelligence (what most people call God) leads me in my work. Divine love is the carrier wave of that healing power.
Sometimes people call me a healer because of the way I listen to my inner guidance to help people. It is more accurate to say I was the guy with the compass, pounding in signposts along the way. It was Anne who actually walked the path. Anne was the healer all along.
Robert Chute is a writer and Massage Therapist in London, Ontario.
The Anne Belohorec Story
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