November 12, 2003
Contra Costa Times
Out the front door by 5:30 a.m. every day, Deni Faircloth was usually running at full-speed, her days filled like an over-packed suitcase.
It was not remarkable for the chronic workaholic to squeeze in two full-time occupations -- working with disabled children and earning a college degree -- with her love for painting, photography, and even helping her favorite Concord bagel shop open its doors to customers every morning.
"Most people will say of me that if something needs to be done, I do it," said Faircloth, 44.
But now, for the first time in her life, the Concord resident is being forced to shift into a slower gear. The fast pace that used to exhilarate her can now leave her burned out and bedridden for days at a time.
It was in July that the back and neck pain started. Her arm became numb and her leg lost feeling and began to drag, and only three days later, the left half of her body became paralyzed and she could no longer speak.
Faircloth's friend Tammy Teaster, 35, spent 13 days asking doctors to admit Faircloth to a local hospital. When she was finally successful, a disoriented Faircloth underwent an MRI and a spinal tap, and the answer was found.
She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the staggering attack left her hospitalized for almost two weeks.
Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease in which myelin, the fatty tissue that surrounds nerve fibers in the brain, is lost. The disease affects the brain's ability to conduct electrical impulses throughout the body's central nervous system.
Today, Faircloth can speak well, walk occasionally without a wheelchair, and enjoy the independence she is gradually regaining with the help of therapy.
"I still have a lot to work on, but I am still so much better than I was a few months ago, when I came home," she said.
Teaster, who works with Faircloth helping disabled children throughout the county, took time off to help her friend. Faircloth was confined to a bed and could not move on her own.
"Life literally changed for us overnight," said Teaster.
The last few months required hard work, but with the help of weekly speech, physical and occupational therapy, Faircloth said she gradually progressed to a wheelchair and began to speak.
Still, the change was a blow to Faircloth. She lost financial aid for school and was about to miss graduating with her class at the University of Phoenix in Walnut Creek, being only a few units shy of earning her bachelor's degree in human service.
On behalf of her friend who was still very weak, Teaster wrote a six-page letter to the school. She arranged for Faircloth to continue working on her degree, individually with a teacher and at her own pace. She was able participate in the graduation ceremony at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, though she is still completing her degree.
"It was awesome. She had about 25 people there who went to see her ... everyone was crying. She had worked so hard," said Teaster, who wore a gown that matched Faircloth's for the ceremony and pushed her across the stage in a wheelchair. "Graduating with her class -- that's not something that you can do again in six months."
"It was very exciting to be with all my classmates because we've been together since the beginning," said Faircloth, who received a standing ovation.
Though the effort put Faircloth in bed for two days, the achievement helped her set the pace for reclaiming her life. From that point, she said she set out to regain her independence and reconnect with friends.
Part of the requirements for finishing her degree is teaching art to elementary school students, an activity she thought about and planned while she was in the hospital, she said.
And with more than 23 years dedicated to her passion of helping disabled children, Faircloth was anxious to return to her work. Her own experience with a disability now gives her favorite job a new dimension, she said.
"I definitely appreciate what the kids are going through ... it just kind of woke me up and gave me a different perspective of appreciation," she said. "When the lady that I work with told the kids that I had to go to occupational therapy, also, they kind of thought it was interesting because now I was doing exactly what they were doing."
In addition, Faircloth made a long-overdue visit to Sunrise Bagel Cafe in Concord, which she has frequented for 10 years.
"When we see her, it's very emotional. Since I started business five years ago, she never misses a day unless she goes on vacation," said owner Jack Ngo, who sent Faircloth pastries and bagels while she was in the hospital.
"Every morning when we open the door, she always helps us -- she makes the coffee, takes the tables and chairs out for us. She's a great person, no doubt about it," he added.
With so many accomplishments already under her belt long before doctors predicted they would be, Faircloth continues to apply herself in therapy. She said that in part, her hard work is an attempt to say thank you to Teaster for her support.
"She works so hard for me that the very least I can do is work hard for her in therapy," said Faircloth.
She compared her friend's determination to working out problems with doctors and the insurance company to that of a pit bull.
"Tammy has taken over that part of my life that I can't do. When she secured that I could be in the graduation, I couldn't have done that for myself," said Faircloth.
The hard work is also simply part of Faircloth's personality, which remains the same even though her body has changed.
"I don't feel sorry for myself," Faircloth said. "I've never felt that way even if I was having a bad day. Feeling sorry for myself or why didn't this happen to somebody else -- what a waste of time and a waste of my mind, which is now working.
"I've just been very stubborn about the whole thing and I've worked
harder than I had any business doing, but that's just the way I am."
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