Something went terribly wrong when art teacher Becky Guinn of Valley High School underwent heart surgery for a valve replacement at age 54. Her body reacted adversely to the once-commonly used blood thinner, Heparin. Instead of preventing blood clots, the use of the drug created a giant one that broke apart and clogged the capillaries throughout her circulatory system. Called heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, the condition often causes death. Guinn’s medical incident led to the loss of her lower arms and legs.
On Jan 23, Guinn spoke to the Pacesetters luncheon, a senior adult event at Parker Memorial Baptist Church. Guinn, an artist in her own right, said speaking was a skill she developed after retiring from education.
She headed the art department at the high school where she taught for more than 14 years. She returned to teaching six days after receiving her prosthetics and went on to teach and direct the program an additional five years. She said the support she received from her family, friends, and students facilitated her return. The State of Alabama hired an assistant to help her in the classroom.
“I returned to education because I wanted to show the students that it is possible to overcome life’s setbacks,” Guinn said.
During her speech, she described how her brain continues to “feel” her extremities.
She wears “hands” with hooks that adapt to typing, driving, painting, and other activities. She wears prosthetic legs and feet to walk.
“I never would have chosen for this to happen, but God prepared me for it,” Guinn said.
As a 4-year-old, she contracted rheumatic fever and had to learn to walk again, a skill she had to relearn again after the illness. As a school girl, she learned many skills related to being handicapped from her best friend who had polio. During their many years of friendship, she helped maneuver her friend’s wheelchair, and now she maneuvers her own. Later in life, she drove her friend’s car that had been outfitted with special equipment, and now she drives a similar car. Also, after observing her friend helped her understand perseverance. Her friend grew up to become a leading advocate for the handicapped in Nashville, Tenn.
Guinn said life after the 2003 crisis has not been easy. She described herself as a servant and said it is hard to sometimes accept assistance from family members and others.
“I have learned to graciously accept help,” she said.
She said she has had moments when she cried, even panicked, and wanted to give up; but giving up is not an option for Christians. They are told in the Bible, she explained, to “Rejoice in all things,” a scripture found in Philippians 4:4.
She also said there is a misconception about a commonly quoted scripture in 1 Corinthians 10:13, which describes life’s burdens.
“Many people think God will not put more on us than we can bear,” she said. “But He does.”
She said the verse is about the temptation to give up in the face of tragedies. The scripture says that God will give the faithful a way to escape and endure.
After resuming her teaching career, she began in earnest creating art.
She enjoys painting with water colors because she does not have to rely on anyone to open bottles or tubes of paint. Her art focuses on nature, which she said is “the handiwork of God.”
Guinn is the wife of David, the president of International Sports Chaplains for the Olympic Games. The couple has two daughters and four grandchildren.
After retirement, she has developed a speaking career, which has given her a platform to tell others how God spared her life in order to share His love.
She and a science teacher, Becky Cairns, developed a program for art advocacy with the Alabama Art Education Association and with assistance from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. It is called “Hooked on Art.” Cairns’s science knowledge enriched the program.
Guinn’s sense of humor and positive attitude inspire more than her students. She inspires many others who hear her story.
Her website is www.beckyguinn.org.