Challenges, adjustments

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Robert Shelby asks a question of Sophia Gonzaga, 7, right, as he works with children during a discipleship class Sunday afternoon at the Trinity Baptist Church.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Robert Shelby asks a question of Sophia Gonzaga, 7, right, as he works with children during a discipleship class Sunday afternoon at the Trinity Baptist Church.

A year after diving accident, Robert Shelby, family achieve new normal

PRAIREVILLE — There is a “new normal” at the Shelby home in Prairieville.

When Robert Shelby became a quadriplegic after breaking his neck in a diving accident on July 3, 2012, friends and Trinity Baptist Church members rallied to help him, Amy and their nine children. They brought meals and donated to a fund to support the family. After a September story in The Advocate about the Shelbys was published, people around the world who read about them on the Internet began emailing and sending donations.

“Christmas was a heyday for the kids, because boxes would just show up at the door packed full of toys,” he said. “Never met these people. Most of them I’ve never talked to.

“It leaves you without words. It’s unbelievable how gracious the church is and loving people are.”

The outpouring has ebbed since Christmas. And that is as it should be, Shelby said.

“Our family really needed that normalness,” he said. “People were coming over bringing supper every night, so every night you’ve got a two-hour guest. If you do that four or five nights a week, it’s quite a challenge just to sit down with your own family. My children and my wife, we all needed to spend some time together.”

The family grew with the birth of Anna Claire on Jan. 31, joining older siblings Cade, 13; Ian, 12; Tate, who turns 11 on July 3; Cai, 9; Abram, who turns 8 on July 8; Emma, 6; Sarah, 5; Asa, 3, and Isaac, 2. The older children were born in a hospital, but Anna Claire was born at home, in part because Amy wanted to do that, in part because Robert’s care made that more practical. Midwives oversaw the delivery.

“She’s been just an incredibly happy baby, just full of smiles,” he said.

That is not the only change to the Shelby household.

lthough Robert has gained no significant movement — his biceps, which flex the arms, work, but not the triceps, which extend them, and he can move only one thumb — he has strengthened the muscles that function and learned to compensate for some of what he has lost.

Now, he can turn over in bed, sit upright for longer periods and use a computer.

He has resumed his industrial sales job with Tyco Valve Controls on a part-time basis. His goal is to resume 40-hour weeks. Before the accident, he used an upstairs office to prepare for his unpaid pastoral work at Trinity Baptist. Disability insurance has paid to install a stair lift so he can access the office. Recurring infections have limited his strength, but Shelby is determined.

“I’ve really been blessed that I live in a day and age where technology is such that I can do this and still provide for my family and contribute in the community,” he said. “I’m very glad.”

The Shelbys had bought a mini-bus with a wheelchair lift that broke down when Amy drove it home from Florida. When Matt McKay, president of the All-Star Chevrolet learned of it, he offered to get the bus into running condition at no charge, which he did. Our Lady of Wisdom nursing home in New Orleans also donated a bus to the family, so now they are looking to sell one of the buses.

Although he has not been able to resume his adult teaching responsibilities, Robert still does counseling and teaches discipleship classes for children at Trinity Baptist.

Shelby said he looks forward to helping others as his strength grows.

“Pride always rises up and says, ‘You don’t need their help,’” he said. “The truth is we’re all frail, and our greatest strength is not that strong. In our time of need, I’ve been very blessed to have so many people that were interested in helping our family.”