When Kim Craig talks about her children, her whole face changes.
Craig lives every day with the effects of the heart attack and stroke she suffered in 1998, when her son, Alex, was 3 and her daughter, Cassie, was just a week old.
One of those effects is short-term memory loss, and you can see that in Craig’s face. She’s almost always smiling, but you can see her brow furrow and the corners of her eyes crease as she struggles to remember.
When she talks about Alex and Cassie, though, her eyes light up, her shoulders relax, and she laughs.
It’s the best laugh you’ll ever hear – a full-throated, wide-mouthed giggle. All you hear in it is love – love for 17-year-old Alex and 14-year-old Cassie.
“She lives for those kids,” said her mother, Ruby Church.
Fifteen years ago Craig, then 31, was a teacher at Kings Creek School. Four years earlier she had been named teacher of the year. She loved her school, her second-grade classes and her principal. She had a toddler and a brand-new baby.
It seemed life was just getting started.
But on July 22, 1998, as Craig was getting Alex out of the bathtub, she collapsed.
She had suffered a heart attack.
At first, Craig’s prognosis was bleak. A lack of oxygen had caused brain damage, and she was unresponsive. Doctors told the Churches that it would be best to remove their daughter from life support because if she lived, she’d be a vegetable. The Churches didn’t do it.
Fifteen years later, she needs a wheelchair to get around, and she needs help to complete most basic tasks – help that her parents, Ruby and Harold Church, have provided all these years. Craig lives with the couple at their home in Cajah’s Mountain.
But she can carry on a conversation. She can go grocery shopping with her mother and watch reruns of “The Golden Girls,” and complete her favorite word-find puzzles.
A vegetable, she’s not.
Things haven’t been easy, of course.
As Ruby Church gets older, her daughter’s day-to-day care becomes a taller order. It’s not as easy to help Kim walk anymore, and getting ready for church became such a hassle that the pair now watch sermons on TV each Sunday morning (“I think the Lord’ll understand,” Church said).
The hardest part for Craig is feeling all those memories just out of reach. She remembers her early life reasonably well, but sometimes things as simple as what she had for breakfast escape her.
She doesn’t remember anything about the day of her heart attack.
“The biggest challenge, I guess, for me, was not remembering things,” Craig said. “Sometimes I can remember things from long ago, but I don’t remember what I ate five minutes ago.”
But Craig credits God with saving her life – and she’s grateful for the life he saved.
“He’s the one that keeps me going,” she said.
And of course, Craig is endlessly proud of her children. Alex, a senior at South Caldwell High, has signed with Wingate University to run cross-country next year. Cassie is a straight-A student at West Caldwell High.
Craig will tell you all about Alex and Cassie. Just ask her about them.
Watch her laugh.