A commitment to life & love
Jaffrey couple making plans to marry, despite health challenges
Growing pains are a natural part of childhood, of learning more about the world and how to live in it. But for someone like Michael Wood, a 23-year-old Jaffrey resident who was born with spinal bifida, a childhood full of surgeries, developmental issues and pain was especially difficult.
Despite the hardships, Wood has not let them stop him from growing, and from living.
Meeting challenges, others
Wood spent many hours in the hospital during his early years. Because of the tumor enveloping his spine, his spinal vertebrae were not forming properly. “I’ve had a lot of surgery in my past,” Wood said in an interview Wednesday. “I’ve dealt with [spinal bifida] for a long time.”
By the time Wood reached his early teens, he was healthy enough to go through middle school and high school without any more surgeries. Wood didn’t let his health issues separate him from his peers, holding a job at Market Basket in Rindge, making friends in school, and, after graduating from Conant High School, eventually beginning a new job at New Hampshire Ball Bearings in Peterborough. “It never stopped me from trying to make connections with people,” he said.
Along the way, Wood found Katie Queen, who was living in Troy at the time. Queen, now 19 and living in Jaffrey, was a fellow Market Basket employee Wood didn’t know well when he worked at the supermarket, but she made an impression that lasted. Early last year, Wood got in touch with Queen. “One day I just randomly messaged Katie on Facebook and asked her out on a date,” said Wood.
Though she initially said no, Wood and Queen had their first date on Jan. 25, 2013, and soon after, the two soon became boyfriend and girlfriend. A month later, Wood found out he needed surgery again.
New struggles and support
In the midst of a budding relationship, Wood learned he would be returning to the hospital after nearly a decade of no surgeries. Faced with the decision of staying or leaving, Queen chose to stick by Wood, moving into his parents’ home to help take care of him. “She hadn’t really even met my parents yet,” Wood said.
Wood had surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon on March 13, 2013, staying in the hospital for a week afterwards to recover. Only a week into being back home, Wood ran into more trouble. “I ended up getting spiral meningitis, so I had to go back,” he said.
After more surgeries and another month-long hospital stay, Wood was able to return to Jaffrey in April. Queen had been at Wood’s hospital bedside most of the time, effectively leaving her job at Market Basket. After that, she began working at New Hampshire Ball Bearings alongside Wood. Queen continued to live with Wood’s family until the two eventually found their own apartment. “I wanted to take care of him when he got home, or at least help,” she said in a joint interview with Wood.
Though it has been over nine months since his last surgery, Wood is still in daily pain. “I still have a lot of residual pain from that [surgery],” he said. “It’s constant pain. The only time I’m not in pain is when I’m lying down.” Despite his continual discomfort, Wood doesn’t let it stop him from functioning normally. “You can’t pay your bills with sympathy,” he said.
When asked how he gets through each day, Wood said a combination of support, ice and heat pack therapy, and medication help him. Wood pointed to several bottles of pills, saying, “These are my breakfast each morning.”
Queen is living with Wood in their apartment and helping him and, while it is positive for their relationship, it doesn’t come without hardship. “She has done so much and she’s sacrificed so much this past year,” Wood said.
Queen mentioned that she has a lot of anxieties related to Wood’s health. “It’s like constant stress that something’s going to happen again. Every day is a struggle,” she said.
Wood added, “I think she worries more than I do.”
Though the couple has been together for just a year, they have gone through much more than some couples face in a decade, and are dedicated to each other because of it. “I know that no matter what, she is supportive of me,” Wood said.
Queen also pointed to the help the couple finds in the community. “He has a lot of support from the people around him,” she said. On a recent snowy morning, a fellow tenant from their apartment building had cleaned off Wood’s car; and at work Wood’s employers bought him an ergonomic chair to make his day more comfortable. On a day-to-day basis, Wood’s colleagues help him out, too. “People usually do the legwork for me, because they know its hard for me to walk,” Wood said.
Despite the struggles both Queen and Wood have each day, they don’t allow them to slow them down. Both go to work every day, pay their bills, keep up their own apartment, and stick together. “I have no choice, but for her, there’s always that choice,” Wood said. “She could disconnect from this whole situation if she wanted to. But she hasn’t wanted to.”
Finding normalcy, happiness
Even when faced with extraordinary circumstances, Wood and Queen make efforts to be responsible, independent people. “I’m very proud of the fact that, despite all my issues, I still go to work every day,” Wood said. Wood mentioned that he is also working with the operations manager of New Hampshire Ball Bearings about once a month in an informal mentorship, looking to make plans for his future career. “I’m not only going to work,” he said, “I’m excelling.”
Wood also attends Southern New Hampshire University, where he is earning his Bachelor’s degree in operations and project management. Wood wants to make his own place in the world, and he doesn’t want to impose himself on other people. “I don’t want to be dependent on other people.”
Wood isn’t letting his health issues slow down his relationship with Queen either. Wood proposed to Queen on July 7, 2013, and their wedding is planned for June 8. Wood’s sister, Jessica Fedorka, created a YouCaring.com page for the couple’s wedding, looking to raise funds to help cover wedding costs. So far, the fundraiser has brought in approximately $1,100. Wood said he asked his sister to set the amount at $1,500, something that would be helpful, but not an “endless number.” “We want to do what we can for ourselves,” Wood said.
On why the couple is marrying so soon into their time together, Wood said that what they have is different than most relationships. “To be completely honest, I don’t think my parents expected me to find someone,” he said, and Wood added that he’d felt the same way at certain points in his life. “I never thought I would even find a person who would accept me,” he said. “That means a lot to me,” Wood said. “That makes up for the years we haven’t been together, in my opinion.”
Making the most
Wood explained in his interview that despite everything that has happened to him, he has a positive outlook on life, because there really is no other successful way to live. ??It is what it is,” he said. “To get worked up and upset about it doesn’t work for me.”
Instead of dwelling on his struggles, Wood moves forward, and with the help of Queen, his family, his community and his own persistence, towards more happiness. “I’m seeking things out, trying to do better, and trying to make my situation better,” he said. “You don’t need the perfect situation in order to have the best life you can.”
To help Michael Wood and Katie Queen with their wedding, or to learn more about their story, visit their page on youcaring.com.
Elodie can be reached by phone at 924-7172 ext. 228, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Elodie is also on Twitter @elodie_reed.