God’s Path: Picayune woman transforms disability into triumph

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2016

From left, Stacey Westbrook's granddaughter Natalie lovingly places her arm around her side. Westbrook has learned to cope by inspiring and helping others.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

From left, Stacey Westbrook’s granddaughter Natalie lovingly places her arm around her side. Westbrook has learned to cope by inspiring and helping others. Photo by Cassandra Favre

“God puts you in a path to prepare you for life.” –– Stacey Westbrook.
For Picayune resident Stacey Westbrook, that path has included providing care for her disabled mother, brother-in-law, son and, more recently, herself.
Now, she has taken that compassion and transformed her potential “boredom” into constructive, supportive and informative social media groups.
Westbrook has lived in Picayune since she was 7-years-old and began taking care of her mother, who was paralyzed, when she was 10-years-old. Essentially, she became the mother, she said.
Little did she know that learning to care for a disabled person would become something she would need to rely on in the future.
Westbrook is married to Johnny and they have two children, Tiffany and Tyler.
In September of 1999, when Tyler was 10-years-old, he woke up one Friday morning and couldn’t stand or walk, his mother said. He rarely missed school, but that day he did.
“He cried all day and stayed in bed,” Westbrook said. “I thought someone was picking on him at school. But he cried and said ‘Mommy, I’m hurting.’’’
Initially, she brought him to a local physician who suggested she take Tyler to Baston Children’s Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson where a team of 15 doctors evaluated her son.
It took until February of 2000 for doctors to diagnose her son with a neurological disorder known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.
“His nerve endings overact,” Westbrook explained. “If he stubs his toe, he becomes crippled. The body attacks itself.”
From 2000 to 2008, the Westbrooks brought Tyler to a doctor in Pensacola, Florida. He was administered morphine, which doctors explained to Westbrook was something Tyler’s body needed to be able to withstand the pain.
He underwent two years of physical therapy and Westbrook homeschooled her son. He started with a walker, moved to a cane and then, finally, could walk on his own, she said.
After he completed physical therapy, Westbrook enrolled him in the Pearl River County School District, where she is also a bus driver, which allowed her to be at home when Tyler was.
She also worked in the district’s special education classes for six years.
She still drives a school bus, which also allows her to take care of her granddaughter, Natalie.
There is no known cure or remission for Tyler’s condition, she said.
“But he’s in a stage where he can work and get out anytime,” she said. “Over the years he’s learned to work through the pain. He will be 26 next month.”
On September 6, 2014, Westbrook faced another challenge when she was involved in a car accident that damaged the vertebrae in her back. She experiences pain that radiates down her legs from the nerve damage. She is currently waiting for her health insurance to approve covering the cost of the surgery. While she waits, she attends physical therapy three times per week and receives injections in her back and hip, also three times per week.
However, Westbrook knew she would be spending a lot of time at home due to her disability. So she decided to create groups on Facebook.
The first group is called Search Angel. Westbrook, who was also adopted, has learned how to search databases to help those who were adopted find their birth families. She also helps reconnect birth parents with their children.
Depending on the information people bring her, it can take weeks or years to locate individuals, she said. There is also a person involved with her group that is an expert in searching DNA.
Her second group, Low Carb Living, was created when she and her husband decided to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Losing weight will also help her recover quicker after surgery, she said.
Since January, she has lost 75 pounds and her husband has lost 70.
“Low Carb Living is a support group where people can help and inspire others to lose weight,” Westbrook said. “Members post pictures of their meals, recipes and provide carbohydrate tips. Now, I’m obsessed with healthy living.”
Prior to her accident, Westbrook and her family traveled to Walt Disney World about twice a year.
Since she is unable to travel there right now, she created the group Disney Addicts. Members can post information about events occurring at the theme park and also share pictures from their vacation.
Last week, the Item reported on 11-year-old Make-A-Wish Mississippi recipient Daeseania Mackel.
Westbrook said when she read the story, she felt compelled to do something.
“I got the people in this group to help me make custom family T-shirts for the family,” she said.
Westbrook and her family also “love going to the Smoky Mountains.”
Her group, MS/LA Smokies Addicts pays homage to the location.
She also administers the group Pearl River County Antiques and Collectibles where people can buy and sell antiques.
The final group she moderates is Family Friend Friendly Pearl River County.
“I post information about things that are going on around here, the family friendly events,” Westbrook said.
Last weekend, she attended the Children’s Safety Fair and posted the information she learned to the group’s page.
The groups are open to anyone who wants to join, she added.
Prior to creating her Facebook groups, Westbrook said she has always felt the desire to help others. She has helped with spaghetti dinner fundraisers for cancer patients and every Christmas adopts about six or seven families to provide Christmas cheer.
“Before I started the groups, I got depressed and I needed something to occupy my mind,” Westbrook said. “It got me out of my depression. God puts you in a path to prepare you for life. This is the life God chose for me. I have no regrets and wouldn’t change it.”

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