Tanya Carter and Mike Smith had a fairy-tale life. They enjoyed hiking and all things outdoors, including rustic camping. They frequently went out with nothing but their backpacks, a tent, and each other. Living in Colorado near the Rocky Mountains where Tanya grew up was their dream life. They were in love and seemingly invincible.
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A move to Australia in 2002 meant they could continue to explore new places. Settling in Adelaide, where Mike’s family resides, they continued their storybook existence. Relishing the time together and the adventures they would have, things couldn’t have been better for the couple.
Unfortunately for Mike and Tanya, their world was about to come crashing down on them. Tanya, then 43, needed routine throat surgery for a persistent cough. A reaction to the anesthetic caused her to suffer a stroke. After the stroke, Tanya was diagnosed with Locked-In Syndrome. LIS is a nervous system disorder that means a person is “locked in” their body without the ability to control it. Some patients maintain the ability to blink or move their eyes, as in Tanya’s case. Every other part of the body remains completely paralyzed.
While devastating, their love story did not end with the diagnosis. Communicating via Tanya’s eye movements, they continued planning for the future. Mike took care of the nitty-gritty tasks such as arranging medical care, arranging guardianship, and applying for disability payments for Tanya. Mike was, in his own words, “a basket case.” But life goes on. Mike learns what he needs to know about Tanya’s condition and takes over all the routine household burdens once shared between them.
Using an alphabet board to communicate, Tanya requested that the couple renew their marriage vows and told Mike that she loved him. They struggled with her care, as she required a team of people to provide round-the-clock assistance. They needed help, so Mike found a residence facility that would allow them to live together. The facility was able to provide necessary care for Tanya while providing the couple some semblance of married life.
Sadly, Tanya passed away in 2018, but we aren’t going to linger on that. We are celebrating the love that these two were able to share. In the face of a devastating catastrophic injury, their love held strong. Their relationship truly honors traditional marriage vows of, “… in sickness and in health…”
The video below shows Mike and Tanya in the residential facility that permitted them to live out Tanya’s final days together.
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