Teen's Collision With Destiny
By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent, Assist News Service
SHORELINE, WASHINGTON (ANS) -- She was a teenage nursing student when a boating accident left a roiling wake of pain and irreversible damage in her life. While she couldn’t grasp it then, God used her accident to launch a future sports ministry with an international impact among African soccer players.
At age 19, Dee Malchow was just starting her nursing education when she went waterskiing with a group of friends at Three Lakes, near Wenatchee in eastern Washington. “I was trying to learn waterskiing, but our driver was not very experienced,” Malchow recalls.
On one of her first attempts on skis, she lost her balance and fell headlong into the water. With the skis separated from her, she bobbed in the lake as she waited for the ski boat to circle back and pluck her out of the water. As she watched the boat coming toward her, something didn’t feel right. The young driver seemed to be approaching her with too much speed.
“There was no drinking involved, but he was being reckless and couldn’t stop in time to keep from hitting me,” Malchow says. “I tried to swim the other way but my leg was caught in the propeller.”
The propeller sliced through Malchow’s leg in nine places up to the hip. In unbearable pain, she felt like she wanted to pass out, but couldn’t. “I was praying—and I was bleeding to death,” she says. A fellow nursing student was part of the group and immediately sprang into action. She placed a belt around Malchow’s leg, which saved her life.
“She was placed there for a purpose,” Malchow believes.
Malchow became a Christian at nine-years-old, after a cousin witnessed to her. “We didn’t go to church, but I felt a need to find out about God and how you can go to heaven,” she says. After she prayed to receive Christ with her cousin, she says she felt God’s peace right away.
His peace was something she needed more than ever as was wheeled into the hospital after her accident. Doctors fought to save her leg, but discovered gas gangrene, a deadly infection caused by bacteria that entered Malchow’s leg muscles through her wounds. “The doctor said: ‘I need to take your leg off right now.’”
Malchow’s leg was amputated three inches below the knee. “It was pretty traumatic,” she says.
“At 19 I was lying there and I couldn’t make sense of this,” Malchow recalls. “I told God I don’t know the depths of what’s going on here, but I know you love me and will never leave me.”
A well-intended nurse placed Romans 8:28 on the wall near Malchow’s bed: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”
Malchow stared at the words and drew a complete blank. “I remember looking at that and thinking I have absolutely no idea what that means…I don’t know how anything good could come out of something so awful.”
During the next year, Malchow adjusted physically and psychologically to her new condition, while doctors fitted her with an artificial leg. “It was kind of scary at first because there aren’t many amputees around,” Malchow recalls. It became important for her to find other amputees who would share their wisdom and practical advice.
After her leg was fitted with the prosthesis, she slowly resumed some of her former activities. “I began trying to do things I did before like driving and riding a bike,” Malchow notes. “I even tried some things I’d never tried before, like skiing,” she says. “I couldn’t go as far or as fast as I used to, but I didn’t have to be a champion—I just needed to be functioning.”
She wondered if men would be able to overlook her infirmity. “I was concerned about whether I would ever date again or have a family,” Malchow says. Some men were put off, which caused some pain. “But I was surprised at how many fellows didn’t find it a problem,” she says. She finally realized God gave her an effective quality-control—a screening capability which eliminated the wrong kind of men. “You get rid of the shallow types right off the top.”
“Most guys wanted to be with someone who was fun to be around and made them feel good, and how many toes you had didn’t matter,” she adds.
Malchow married her husband, Jim, when she was 22, and began to pursue her nursing career. After working for 11 years as a night nurse, God awakened her to the possibilities of helping others who shared her disability.
She developed a “Limb Viability Service” at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle specifically geared for amputees and those potentially facing amputations, with a support group that meets weekly. She also worked with amputees as a nurse specialist at a trauma center in Seattle.
A few years ago, Malchow was reading a Baptist newsletter about a team going to Sierra Leone to provide trauma relief in that war-ravaged country. A decade-long civil war left 2 million refugees, along with many amputee victims. “As I read it, God hit my heart right away,” Malchow says. At first, Malchow told God she had seen enough traumas in the U.S., but she continued to feel the Lord’s prodding to move beyond her comfort zone. After seeking the Lord’s will in prayer, she signed on to the two-week mission trip.
When she and her team members arrived in Sierra Leone, they met initially with 20 pastors victimized by the war. Malchow found many who were displaced from their homes and also lost family members. Some were missing limbs, and nearly all had their meager collection of Christian books destroyed.
“The rebels were told to frighten the population during the conflict,” Malchow notes. “They were told to cut off limbs rather than kill people,” she says. “They would also kill parents in front of their children and take the children.”
“It’s so awful when Satan gets rolling,” she adds. “It made me aware of the depths of evil in the heart of man.”
As they toured a refugee camp comprised mostly of Muslims, Malchow sensed something was wrong. “The people were distracted, like they didn’t want to listen to another white person,” Malchow says. “They acted like they didn’t believe the promises people were making.” Many of the Muslim refugees were missing limbs as a result of the horrible conflict.
When it was Malchow’s turn to speak she did something unusual. “I took off my artificial leg to show them I understood, and then they listened.” Suddenly many straightened up and stared intently at Malchow.
“You should all be dead,” Malchow told the men and women in front of her. “Many of your friends died of shock or pain, bleeding and infection, or because they couldn’t get to a hospital.” Many in the crowd nodded their heads in agreement as she spoke, with some possibly aware of the grim statistics: only one in four amputee victims survived their trauma during he war.
“But God has kept you alive for a reason,” she continued. “I have no idea what that reason is, but you are precious to him.”
As she toured the camp, she casually suggested to one dispirited amputee victim that he should try to play soccer on crutches. “We had developed this in Seattle and it had become an international sport,” Malchow notes. Participants in the sport run on crutches and kick the ball with their good foot.
One of the pastors she met in Sierra Leone, Mambud Samai, grabbed the idea and began to run with it. Not long after she got home, Malchow received an email from Pastor Samai. He said he had 60 people eager to play, but he needed the rules, which Malchow forwarded.
Pastor Samai, 33, is a Muslim convert himself. After he found Christ in college, his Muslim uncle cut off his educational funding. Malchow describes Samai as energetic and visionary. “About 90 percent of the team became Christians due to his influence,” she says.
In 2003, Malchow met the Sierra Leone team in London after they traveled there to play a British team. More recently, the team competed in a special division of the World Cup competition in Brazil.
“This sport has given them hope,” Malchow reports. “God has given them a sense of purpose and ability to face life,” she notes. “Instead of being viewed as pathetic amputees going down the street, people turn and say, ‘Oh, you’re one of the soccer players.’”
“It’s amazing how God takes the biggest disaster and turns it into the biggest success,” she adds. “That’s what He did with His Son.”
Mark Ellis is a Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service. He is also an associate pastor in Laguna Beach, CA.
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