Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray are lifelong friends who came to share their journey and lessons learned about friendship, community, and faith to the people of High Desert Church (HDC) in Victorville, CA.
It would seem Justin and Patrick were destined to be friends — their parents were friends in college and Justin’s great uncle was Patrick’s grandfather’s best man in his wedding.
So, naturally, when Justin and Patrick were born 36 hours apart at the same hospital in 1975, the family tradition carried on.
“We’ve been connected since day one,” Patrick said.
Justin and Patrick at graduation from high school. The two boys did everything together: family activities, church activities, school, and sports.
Over the weekend, the men shared their story at HDC’s Victorville campus to more than 12,000 attendees of the multi-site church. After a brief introduction by one of the pastors, Paul Gostanian, Justin rolled onto the stage in his wheelchair, with Patrick following close behind. Justin introduced Patrick as his “BFF” and their comedic banter back and forth created a positive energy in the large auditorium, filling it with laughter while giving a glimpse of their unique friendship.
“When you have that much history, you share lots of stories,” Patrick said. “Especially when you’re hanging out with this guy ‘cause he’s got some pretty crazy ideas.”
But the lively room quieted as Justin began to tell the part of the story that explained why he spoke from a wheelchair.
When Justin was almost 16, he was in a serious car accident. The accident triggered a dormant progressive autoimmune disease called Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy (MAMA). The disease, similar to ALS, caused Justin’s autoimmune system to attack his nervous system, which sporadically shuts down, causing his muscles to atrophy. The disease itself doesn’t cause pain, and he still has full sensory awareness — and a full sense of humor — in spite of it.
“Justin has always been a glass-half-full kind of guy or what I think of as annoyingly positive,” Patrick says.
For a while, Justin could still do most things using a special brace. Over a period of years, he lost function of his feet and legs. His torso and arms remained unaffected.
Justin went to college and got married. He and Patrick remained close and continued to vacation together. Justin continued to do as much as his body allowed. Because his atrophy had been contained to his lower body, he could maintain a career as a talented graphic designer. But in 2010, he noticed a weakness in his right shoulder. It only took 45 days to lose over 70 percent of the use of his right arm. Eventually, Justin lost the use of all of his extremities.
‘The Deep Dark Hole’
To read the rest of this amazing story and see a quick video, please go to SoCal Christian Voice. Thanks! You’ll be glad you did 🙂