Lussier family a test of faith

Rick Devereux

Faith is a strange thing.

Most people have it when it is useless and lose it when they are

in most need of it.

No one needs faith when things are going well, it might seem. But

despair sets in once the tide shifts and faith is gone.

But not Bob Lussier.

He has faith even when Job of the Bible would start to have

doubts.

Lussier, 42, grew up in Fountain Valley and was on the high school

football and track and field teams. He played in some park softball

leagues after graduating and enjoyed riding his bicycle.

He was a model of health and well-being.

He found it hard to meet the right kind of woman, so a friend set

him up on a blind date. Ten months later he and Debbie were married.

Their faith was tested after a miscarriage, but the two stuck

together and eventually had a daughter, Emily.

Two years later Bob and Debbie had twin sons, Keith and Kyle.

Their faith was tested again.

When the twins were about 1 1/2 years old, the Lussiers

suspected something was different about their sons.

"Their language skills were not coming quick," Debbie said.

A speech pathologist told the couple the twins exhibited autistic

traits.

"We were in denial," Debbie said. "When they were 3 years old we

sent them to the Orange County Regional Center in Santa Ana. They

told us in three minutes it was autism."

Autism is a developmental disease that falls on a spectrum scale.

The more severely affected individuals are dependent on others for

nearly everything. Those less affected are able to live independent

lives but still lack social skills.

Keith and Kyle have mild autism, but still require special

attention.

"The best description is that they receive all of the stimulus of

what is going on in a room," Bob said. "The music playing, the people

talking, the cars in the street. But it is all coming in and they

can't focus on one thing. All of it is hitting them as hard as

everything else. They have an inability to sit still and focus."

The disease is so hard to deal with, marriages usually fall apart.

"Over 80% of marriages with one autistic child end in divorce,"

Debbie said. "We made a decision that we would not let that happen to

us."

Debbie was a stay-at-home mom while Bob worked as a salesman.

The day-to-day grind got to be overwhelming, but the couple stayed

supportive of one another.

Then their faith was tested.

Bob was admitted into a hospital for a heart attack. He had an

angioplasty -- a procedure designed to reduce or eliminate blockage

of the coronary arteries.

Everything was fine and the Lussiers were able to resume their

lives of caring for a growing daughter and autistic twins.

Then their faith was tested.

Debbie was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes

chronic pain, stiffness and tenderness in muscles and joints. Fatigue

causes the pain to worsen.

Debbie was able to deal with pain, even though chasing after three

children -- two with a social disorder -- caused severe fatigue.

Then their faith was tested.

Emily was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

(ADHD).

A stay-at-home mom that isn't supposed to be exposed to fatigue

had to deal with a daughter whose hyperactivity made the autistic

twin sons demolish the house.

"In a lot of ways her ADHD was harder than autism," Debbie said.

"She could hype up the whole house and get the boys going crazy."

But the Lussiers stayed together.

Their faith in each other kept them going.

"We are a team," Debbie said. "We aren't going to abandon our

teammate."

Then their faith was tested.

On Sept. 29, 2003, Debbie and Bob were moving book shelves. Debbie

went to the grocery store, so Bob decided to move the last shelf by

himself.

When Debbie came home, Bob was complaining that his arms felt

funny.

"Something told me to stay close to him," Debbie said. "I watched

him get up, and he was walking like he was drunk. And I could tell

his tongue was swelling up and he had trouble talking."

Debbie called a nurse, who told them Bob was showing stroke-like

symptoms. Debbie called her sister to pick up the kids and then she

called 911.

Bob indeed had suffered a stroke.

The doctors think the stroke was caused by a head injury Bob

suffered the day before, which resulted in a blood clot in his brain.

Because of his age -- Bob was 41 at the time of the stroke -- the

doctors suggested the recovery process would take three to six

months.

"I remember thinking three to six months sounded like a real long

time," Debbie said. "It's been a year and half since his stroke and

three to six months sounds like nothing."

Bob has trouble with tasks that require concentration. He is

unable to write with a pen and paper because he has limited mobility

on the right side of his body.

Bob lost his job and is living off his disability insurance.

But the Lussiers stayed together.

They actually viewed the stroke as a blessing in disguise.

"I was able to spend all day with my wife and kids," Bob said.

"There aren't too many married couples that are able to do that. It

has really brought us closer together. If she wasn't before, she is

certainly my best friend now."

Through it all the Lussiers were still trying to figure out how to

deal with autistic twins.

They heard about Angel's Run, a charity walk-a-thon at Corona del

Mar High dedicated to helping children with special needs. They heard

there would be information about autism, plus the Lussiers wanted to

help with the charity.

While at the event, Bob saw people with T-shirts that read, "Train

to End Stroke."

The group used running to raise money and awareness for stroke

research. Bob was immediately hooked.

He started training with the group and had plans to participate in

a marathon in Hawaii in December, but he started getting headaches

and had to stop.

The doctors have cleared him to train again and he plans to

participate in the San Diego Marathon in June.

"It's easy to get depressed and lay on the couch and watch TV,"

Bob said. "But I need to stay active. I think it's the

competitiveness in me. I may be down, but I won't be down for long."

Bob trains at the CdM track, through the Back Bay trails and

around Costa Mesa. He incrementally increases the number of miles he

covers each week, but the stroke has caused some difficulties.

"When I get fatigued, I drift to the right because of the limited

motion," he said. "And I wouldn't call what I do 'running.' It's

hardly even jogging. It's more like a fast walking."

The whole family is getting involved with the training.

Bob takes Emily out for six-mile walks, which help with her

hyperactivity. The twins enjoy being out and active with dad. And

Debbie is planning on traversing part of the marathon with Bob.

"There are plenty of times when I don't feel like getting up and

training and just want to stop," Bob said. "But I think about the

example I am setting for my daughter and two sons. I don't want them

to quit so I can't quit.

"There are times when I wonder how much more can we handle," Bob

said. "But then I realize we aren't supposed to handle any of it. The

real test is to see how fast we can turn it over God."

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