'As perfect as anyone else'
BAKERSVILLE – Faith Gardner has made a habit of proving people wrong.
Gardner, 66, of Bakersville, can often be seen riding around town in her electric wheelchair with an American flag proudly displayed on the back. She frequently crosses the streets at the sidewalks to get to the sunniest spots of town.
If the light changes while she crosses, she always makes sure to mouth “thank you” to the driver who lets her cross.
Gardner wasn’t expected to live very long when she was born in her home state of Maine.
“I was born just as perfect as anybody else,” she said. “At 14 months, they discovered I had hydrocephalus.”
Hydrocephalus is the buildup of cerebral fluid around the brain that can occur at birth or later. In Gardner’s case, doctors warned it would likely cause her to die before her second birthday.
“They were going to do surgery on me that hadn’t ever been done before,” she said. “It was an experiment. They told my momma, ‘She’s not going to live anyway so this might give her a chance’ and they went ahead and did it.”
After the surgery, Gardner recovered and lived life as a normal child. She spent plenty of time playing with her four brothers in Maine.
“We didn’t mind the cold,” she said. “We’d sneak out of the bedroom window and play barefoot in the snow. I could climb trees, hang from limbs and do anything my brothers could.”
Doctors told Gardner her condition would slowly wear down her ability to walk. Her family moved to Mitchell County before she started high school to be closer to her grandmother in Morganton. Gardner dropped out of high school before her senior year and as an adult, she babysat and did other jobs working with children.
About 10 years ago, she decided she wanted to finish her education after she began walking with a specialized cane or walker. She earned her GED and an associate degree in early childhood education from Mayland Community College.
Unable to use her degree to work because she can’t lift things, she said is still proud of her achievement.
“The fact that I went and did it was good enough for me,” she said. “People said I couldn’t do it. I had to prove them wrong and prove me right.”
Now, Gardner likes to go to the library to use the computer, go to civic meetings and tell others about the importance of adult education. She regularly attends Friendship Baptist Church.
Her son, Harry, is almost 40. He lives in Buladean and has two sons.
Earlier this year, Gardner developed a special friendship with Jon Duncan, branch manager of United Community Bank in Bakersville.
Duncan met Gardner after overheard her talking about playing Scrabble.
“Faith was talking on the phone to her mom and she was talking about finding a partner to play with,” Duncan said. “Her mom couldn’t come up and I told her I’d play with her.”
The two meet every week or two to play a game of Scrabble on Duncan’s lunch break. He admitted he is typically loses.
“Her vocabulary is vast,” he said. “Her grasp of the English language is very good. The ladies I work with usually ask me how the game went when I get back. More times than not, I have to tell them I lost.”
While they play, Gardner frequently leans over and offers Duncan help.
“Let’s see what you have,” she says.
Regardless of how the game goes, both feel it’s time well spent.
“She does not let the situation she is in keep her from doing what it is she likes to do,” Duncan said. “It’s not an excuse for her and that’s a big thing for anybody.”
Gardner is thankful for every day and every time she gets to start a new game of Scrabble with Duncan.
“I wasn’t supposed to live,” Gardner said. “It goes to show you what God can do. When the doctors did all they could do, they gave up and God took over. I’m still here, thank you Lord.”