Not every gift of the season is found in a brightly decorated box piled with others under an illuminated evergreen in the living room at Christmas.

For Frances Blackshire, the gift awaiting her was inside the operating room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington.

Eight years of intense pain finally ended. At times, the suffering was so unbearable she couldn’t eat. Blackshire’s odyssey took her from one doctor to the next, only to find temporary respite offered by a pain killing tablet, or an injection, that only lasted a mere two or three hours.

“One session was so bad I was screaming for the whole time,” Blackshire recalled. “Hurt more than ever.”

One physician erroneously diagnosed her trouble as rheumatoid arthritis. Aware of the potential for total paralysis, two hospitals refused to accept her for the operation, once her misery was accurately identified.

Finally, husband Roger happened to read a Register-Herald story about a Cabell County legislator who faced the same affliction — damaged discs in the back.

Mindful of similar symptoms, Blackshire got in touch with Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, and a friendship was forged that led to Dr. Pamos Ignatiadus, a neurosurgeon in Huntington, and successful surgery was performed Dec. 4.

Sobonya went to St. Mary’s the day of Blackshire’s operation and has kept in touch.

“I could hear the pain in her voice,” Sobonya recalled of her initial conversation with the Sand Lick woman.

“We just hit it off from day one. We’re like kindred spirits. After she had been given the run-around with doctors in different places that wouldn’t take her insurance, she made an appointment with my neurosurgeon.”

But she was told it would take almost two months to see the doctor. Sobonya had a friend at the appointment desk and moved her date up within two hours.

“He found out she had pretty much the same problems as I did,” the delegate said.

Part of the procedure entails insertion of cadaver bone where the vertebrae has deteriorated and is rebuilt.

“I’m an organ donor, so hopefully one day I can do the same thing for somebody else,” Sobonya said.

Once the two met, Blackshire learned Sobonya had regained full motion in her neck, had no trouble operating a motor vehicle and seemed to have her life restored.

“It was such a relief to talk to someone about this horrible condition,” she said.

After the operation, which calls for an incision in her throat, Sobonya lost the use of her voice temporarily, a brief setback that prompted some good-natured kidding by Democratic lawmakers, who jokingly wished her silence would linger throughout the 2008 session.

“That just affects certain people,” the lawmaker said. “I’m not sure what causes it. Mine lasted almost two months. Frances was talking the day I went to visit her in the hospital. My voice is fully restored. I’m ready to start the session and be very vocal.”

Blackshire views Ignatiadus as “a healing instrument of the Lord,” and his surgical work on her as Heaven sent.

“I have received a miracle,” she said.

“I do not want, nor do I deserve, any credit for what happened. It was the Lord’s work, who had mercy on me, one of His children.”

Sobonya brightened up Blackshire’s recovery with Christmas flowers and a special pillow, all the while providing her with support in a shared medical problem.

“Kelly is a very special, caring person ...,” Blackshire said. “I know she is a God-fearing woman who is working her heart out for the people of Cabell County, yet she took time to direct, guide and support me through this time. She truly cares.”

The 55-year-old grandmother also praised fellow worshippers at Fairdale Freewill Baptist Church and a number of friends and relatives for seeing her through the ordeal.

Try as she did, Blackshire found it impossible to coax a smile out of her surgeon until the surgery was completed, and she remarked, in jest, how her husband wished she could be voiceless for at least three weeks.

“When he heard that, he finally smiled,” she said.

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