Becky's Story

All she wanted was to be like everybody else, but Becky Rhoads Blevins was much more than that.

March 18, 2001|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Staff

It rained the day Becky Rhoads married Scott Blevins. She had planned her wedding down to the last pink and blue detail, but the weather was one thing she just couldn't control. It rained so much that day she had to cry.

"Even though it was raining, honey, you and Scott were the handsomest couple," her mother insists with a worried look.

Becky's face, swollen from morphine, relaxes on the pillow of her bed at the nursing home.

"We were handsome," she agrees. And it was the happiest day of her life. When it came time to toast her new husband, the young bride slipped off her wedding shoes and raised the champagne glass with her left foot.

Afterward, the newlyweds headed out in a car driven by Becky's United Cerebral Palsy counselor. They spent their honeymoon in Randallstown, in their very own apartment. But not before Becky made her first public appearance as Mrs. Scott Blevins wearing a brand-new suit -- a suit with a skirt.

Forced to use her feet as hands, Becky always wore pants. But not that day, not for her going-away outfit.

Her wedding had been her boldest act of independence yet. Born at a time when children with cerebral palsy were usually institutionalized, Becky had spent most of her first 26 years fighting public ignorance and false assumptions about her abilities. Because of brain damage that occurred when she was born, she could never use -- or control -- her arms, not even well enough to hold hands with her fiance. Her vision was terrible. She couldn't hear well, even with a hearing aid. And it was difficult for her to speak clearly. Most people couldn't understand what she was saying at first, and didn't spend much time trying. They saw a crippled body and assumed a crippled mind.

But not Scott Blevins. When they met, she was a 25-year-old college student. He was a 35-year-old horse groom, mentally impaired but able-bodied -- a man with a driver's license. They met in the hall of an apartment building where Scott still lived with the foster mother who had raised him from infancy. One day Scott saw Becky struggling to unlock her apartment door with her foot. He put the key in the lock and turned it for her. She invited him in. And things progressed quickly.

Now almost 16 years had passed since her meticulously planned wedding day. Gravely ill from cancer, under hospice care at Genesis Eldercare Brightwood Center in Lutherville, she had completed the details of her funeral. The viewing, what she would wear, the hymns, the pallbearers, the lunch after the service -- all had been arranged.

It was time to tell the story she saw as her legacy. Despite the odds against it, Becky Blevins knew she had lived a life worthy of recognition. Scott was a huge part of her remarkable story, although he could not articulate it. But there were others who could. The dying woman gave permission for family and friends, teachers and physicians to speak on her behalf.

And on one of her last good days, she shared her own thoughts. Speaking with great effort, her mother serving as interpreter, Becky reiterated the message to which she had committed so much of her energy: "People with handicaps," she labored, "people with handicaps are people, too."

She had her mother gather her diplomas and certificates, her letters of recommendation. She answered questions about her family, shared her likes and dislikes. Occasionally she was interrupted by a hospice volunteer, or, more happily, by a visit from Scott, whose rehabilitation from a stroke had brought him to a different part of the same facility.

At one point, she gestured with irritation at the name posted on the door of her room. The sign read "Rebecca Blevins." That's not who I am, she frowned; could someone get it changed?

"I'm Becky," she reminded everyone. "Becky."

She could dream

When her first daughter entered the world two months early, June Rhoads gave her the name she had always wanted for herself. Becky was a name that was traditional, outgoing, friendly. Girls named Becky, she thought, should navigate easily through life. They should be practical and determined. Her child would need to be both.

Bill and June Rhoads soon realized that Becky's arms were never still, not unless she was asleep. They watched in growing alarm as she started picking up her crib toys with her feet. Then they received the diagnosis: cerebral palsy. Because her damaged brain could not send proper signals to certain muscles, she could not control them.

The Rhoadses, who had an older son, were urged to institutionalize Becky. In the 1950s and '60s, the world didn't distinguish very well between mild and severe cases of CP, and certainly didn't provide any services to families who wanted to keep their children at home.

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