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By Daniel J. Vance


  Dr. John Shepherd's disability led to a spiritual awakening.

  It all started with lower back pain after shoveling snow in November 1997. "Being a physician, I asked colleagues for their advice on my pain," he said recently over the telephone from his home in North Mankato, Minnesota.

  An orthopedic specialist determined that Shepherd, an ophthalmologist (eye doctor), had a bulging disc and prescribed anti-inflammatory medication. In time, he went through seven painful weeks of physical therapy and back spasms. A back care specialist taught him strengthening exercises, but those didn't help. Finally, an MRI revealed nothing wrong.

  In early 1999 his knee began hurting. He had torn cartilage removed, but strangely, removing it didn't stop the pain. So now he had intense and fairly constant back and knee pain.

  By summer the pain had spread to his upper back, neck, chest, abdomen, and other knee. "I was a basket case," he said. "My whole body was in pain. I would reach for something with my arm, for instance, and my shoulder would start hurting and wouldn't stop."

 To shorten this story, after several more years of treatments, tests, specialists, x-rays and therapy, doctors said he had "non-malignant chronic pain" probably brought about by nerve damage to his "pain system." He was told nothing could be done for him.

  "By then I had stopped performing eye surgeries," he said. "I was trying, but physically couldn't do them. My confidence in my abilities had been undermined because of the pain." By not performing surgeries, his income dipped 40 percent. He did keep seeing patients for eye pain, blurred vision, eye exams and glasses.

  Then in a last-ditch effort, he had another knee operation.

  "I was at home in bed the day after this surgery," he said. "Finally, I realized there was nothing more I could do. I had pursued all the doctors and remedies. I saw my job slipping away. At that moment God became apparent to me in a way I'd never known."

  Stripped of a reliance on medicine, Dr. Shepherd was forced to look inward and upward.

  Today, the father of six children still experiences some pain. "But I've adjusted to it," he said. "Doctors have said I may develop arthritis, so things likely will get worse. But to me the future isn't a death sentence. It's a realization that I have to walk in faith."

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