This is a story, told with my brother’s permission, of a time before ultrasounds and the many other medical miracles of today. Seventy seven years ago in January 1936 our mother gave birth to their first born son, Martell. He was born with Spina Bifida and with his legs bent up nearly to his chest. The doctor told our parents he would not survive, but a day later he was still alive and surgery was performed to correct the defects. They were told that he would never be able to sit up by himself. He had spinal cord damage so his lower extremities did not develop and strengthen as they should, but he most certainly survived!! Our mother exercised his legs daily. He began to pull himself around with his arms and by age five was able to pull himself up and walk, legs weak and dragging, but he walked. He tells of the shock on that same doctor’s face when our parents walked into his office with Martell walking between them. As he grew, his arms and upper body develop enormous strength and he began helping around the farm. Later he took a course in auto body work. He worked at that for a time, but returned to farm with our father, to help the neighbors, and he developed his own business raising pure bred Polled Herford bulls. He became a skilled mechanic and welder. As our father aged and lost his eye sight, Martell took over the farm. As time took a toll on Martell’s physical health, he began to walk with a cane, then two canes and finally had to use a wheel chair, sell the cattle and rent out the land. After he became wheelchair bound he studied and received a federal gunsmithing license, which he holds to this day. He has suffered some physical problems, most not directly related to his Spina Bifida. Some required long hospital stays. Each time he fought back to gain the strength he needed to live independently. While my parents were in a nursing home, he met a C.N.A. whom he married at age sixty two. They enjoyed almost thirteen wonderful years together on the farm, when she passed away from a heart attack. He is once again alone on the farm, living independently (in winter he shovels snow off the ramp and from around his adapted pickup so he can drive to town). As is evident from his story, he has more determination and persistence than most of us. He always has a positive attitude and is an inspiration to everyone who knows him. Just a little afterthought. A year and a half after Martell’s birth our mother gave birth to another son. He was too premature to survive back in 1937. Shortly thereafter our mother’s doctor told her she should not have more children; however she was already pregnant with me. I am sure our parents spent many a day worrying about the future. On August 14, 1938 they were blessed with a perfectly healthy daughter. I was their last child and I am thankful every day for those loving parents and that fantastic brother.


The support, information and encouragement provided by the PPFL parents is not meant to take the place of medical advice by a medical professional. Any specific questions about care should be directed to a health care professional familiar with the situation.


Phone: 763-772-3868

Fax: 866-870-9175

Prenatal Partners for Life
PO Box 2225
Maple Grove, MN 55311