On Saturday, January 25, eighty people gathered in the dining room at the Lindsay Gardens Nursing and Rehabilitation center to observe one of their residents, Pam Thompson, be baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For Jehovah’s Witnesses, baptism is a public display that one has dedicated him or herself to serve God and involves complete immersion in water. This would present unique challenges in the case of Pam Thompson.
Pam, 65, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which attacks the motor neurons in the spinal cord and lower brain. Thus Pam is unable to eat, move, or speak without assistance. She communicates through a speech-generating device called Tobii, which tracks her eye movement across a virtual keyboard. Breathing has become difficult for her, so she must rest in the same upright position 24 hours a day.
Due to the potential risks involved, the directors and attorneys of Lindsay Gardens had their objections. Even her family members who are also Jehovah’s Witnesses expressed their concerns. But Pam would not be deterred: “I don’t feel complete unless I get baptized. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”
But why this tenacious determination to get baptized? While ALS affects the brain’s ability to control muscle movement, it does not affect one’s mental faculties. Pam is completely sound in mind when she says, “I’m happier than I’ve been in years.” She adds, “I have never felt more loved and part of something so huge.”
It started when Pam’s older brother Larry and his wife Linda, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, came for a visit in 2014. Pam was living with her mother Velma at the time as her caretaker. Neither Pam nor her mother had ever shown much interest in Larry’s faith, but during this particular visit, a deep discussion about Bible topics ensued and afterwards both Pam and Velma decided to study the Bible with Linda. A year later, Velma was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When Pam was diagnosed with ALS, both she and Velma were admitted to Lindsay Gardens. But Pam would still ask for her Bible study. Thus it was no surprise that Pam would succeed in hurdling all obstacles to get baptized. Her enthusiasm was unstoppable. Eventually Lindsay Gardens approved her decision.
In preparation for the event, several members of Pam’s congregation held practice sessions to ensure Pam’s safety. Thus when that momentous Saturday afternoon came, they were set to skillfully carry out their duties. They secured Pam onto the patient transfer board and carefully carried her to the small pool that had been set up. In one swift, coordinated movement, they submerged her into the water for just an instant. The room broke out in fervent applause as Pam smiled.
“It gave purpose to a lot of people,” said Forrest Allen, the administrator of Lindsay Gardens who also attended the event. “It just shows it’s never too late to change. Somebody can always progress, no matter what stage of life they’re in.”