Author overcomes obstacles
By Jillian Daley
If she had just been the same volunteer reader she has been since 2001, Virginia Wallen would still have been loved by the children at Mineral King Elementary School.
"Wait!" called out second-grader Mariah Perkins, desperate to give Wallen one more hug Thursday before Wallen left Mariah's classroom to help out a teacher in a another room.
Wallen does more than read to the children at Mineral King. The 61-year-old Visalia resident writes books for them — books that, up until recently, she could barely hold.
"[The children] keep inspiring me," said Wallen, who has 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren but rarely sees them as most of them live in Tennessee. "What do they do? They love me, and I love them."
Her books, such as "Sonny and Sammy," focus on people who struggle with disabilities. In 1991, she was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. She couldn't touch anything without pain and had to leave her job at the Tulare County Department of Social Services.
That doesn't stop her from volunteering three to four days a week at the school and regularly at three nursing homes. She brought in her books to read to them, and the children added their own illustrations.
"I told her to start publishing because [the books] were too good," Mineral King teacher Lisa Majarian said.
The first book Wallen published was "Sonny and Sammy" in 2005, and she also published "Boo Boo Bear" in 2005. "Amanda: Duck or Chicken?" is expected on shelves within six months. The inspirational stories explore the lives of those with disabilities, showing them as they are — just regular people.
In "Sonny," the horse is mistreated by his owner, ending up wandering the desert when he connects with a little boy, Sammy, and his family. The horse and boy bond, and one day Sammy, who is scared of horses, tries to ride Sonny. Sonny bucks upon seeing a deadly rattlesnake, knocking the child off of his back.
"[Sonny] had killed the snake and saved Sammy's life," she wrote.
Sammy ends up in a wheelchair. He still loves Sonny. His father buys him a special saddle made for someone with disabilities so the boy can ride again. As a young man, Sammy opens a ranch for people with disabilities. Everyone gets to ride.
It is a "very special place enjoyed by all," Wallen writes.
The story of Sonny and Sammy mirrors Wallen's own life.
Falls can spur RSD — just as a fall took the use of Sammy's legs.
After she lost the use of her hands, her second husband, 67-year-old Randy, helped dress and feed her, gently ministering to her.
But his wife is no one to pity.
"She has a strong will," he said.
In January 2003, she regained the use of her wrists and hands with a device Dr. James Billys installed in her arms, sending waves of electricity that soften the pain.
It gave her back the use of her hands, which are no longer swollen. She regained some of her independence, much like her character when his father gives him the saddle. Her husband still opens jars for her, as her grip isn't strong enough. He still drives everywhere. But she doesn't hurt the way she did.
"Life is better without the pain," she said. "Pain drags you down to where you want to give up."
# The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published May 19, 2006
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Friday, June 09, 2006
Author overcomes obstacles