By Melanie J. Knox, Page Editor
Five years ago, on the way home from a three-and-a-half week mission trip to South Africa, she started feeling flu-like symptoms and spent five hours sleeping in a Swiss airport lounge. By the time her plane was over Chicago, the pilot decided to make an emergency landing.
Shiloh Webb had been throwing up for eight hours and her neck was hurting badly. A doctor on the flight thought she might have spinal meningitis, and an ambulance was waiting for her on the runway.
Doctors at the Methodist Hospital of Chicago did a spinal tap. She didn’t have meningitis. They did a CT scan for a brain tumor, but it wasn’t that either.
Physicians on her case gave her 24 hours to live, but no one told Webb that until later, after she had been in Chicago for a week. Webb then moved to Brackenridge Hospital in her hometown of Austin, and stayed there for two weeks until the symptoms subsided.
A week later, however, the illness was back in full force, evidencing itself in a headache so violently powerful that she had to stay flat on her back because sitting up made the pressure in her head so intense she would either throw up, pass out or both.
Since then, Webb has been through 10 spinal taps, six MRI’s, a lot of CAT scans, more blood work than she can remember, and been on 84 different medications. She’s tried acupuncture and special diets. The doctors still don’t know what’s wrong
“Basically, I’ve had a headache all day, every day since then,” Webb said matter-of-factly.
Webb doesn’t even remember what it is like not to hurt. Some medications can knock her out, but none can take the pain away, she said. Doctors speculate that she contracted some kind of strange virus and that the headaches are a result of that. They speculate that because she was so sick for so long, the virus irritated and inflamed the occipital nerves that run behind her ears; the pressure in her forehead comes from twisted nerves in her spinal cords.
She said headaches began as a pressure in her forehead, but now plague the nerves behind her ears, which ache and cramp up.
Webb is now a junior social work major with an emphasis in ministry. She has wanted to be a missionary since the age of eight, and in the summer of 2000, three years after her initial trip to Africa she returned there again on a mission trip.
“People ask me why I went back, after I almost died the first time,” she said. “But there’s just something about it, not even Africa, but missions, and being able to tell people about God and see them respond so openly… it gets inside you and won’t ever leave.”
Most people don’t even realize how much she hurts.
“I don’t even know how to describe how bad it is,” she said passionately. “Every day, on a good day, is like a really bad migraine. So on bad days, I just don’t even know how to say what it feels like.”
Looking at Webb’s face, one would never know she was in pain. She spends time writing encouragement notes to her friends on 3×5 cards, putting scriptures on the front and a note on the back.
Jackie Beth Shilcutt, a close friend said she knows that Shiloh relies on God for her strength.
“The Lord is faithful, and Shiloh knows that. Lots of people know it up here,” she said pointing to her head, “but Shiloh knows it here, in her heart.”
Webb has spent countless hours praying by herself, with friends and with the elders at Highland Church of Christ.
“God hasn’t said that He’ll take it away yet, but I know He can. I just think He’s saying ‘not right now,’ and He has a reason. If He ever does decide to say ‘yes’ then that would all be just to His glory and nothing from me.”
Webb understands better than most people about relying on God daily for strength. She awakens and prays only that God would use her that day.
“Shiloh personifies persistence and perseverance for me,” Shilcutt said, “because today is a gift and she lives her life that way.”
Webb gets her joy from putting others first. Her roommate, Kasey Lane, junior youth and family ministry major from Hallsville, cited an example.
“Last Wednesday her headaches were so bad that Jackie Beth and Steve [Sargent] took her to the emergency room. She came home at 3 a.m. after a doctor refused to give her any medicine to lessen the pain. I didn’t even know she was there and I was in my room writing a paper until 4:30 a.m. I slept late, until 7:30, and when I got up, she was making me coffee.”
During the day when the pain becomes overwhelming, Webb visits Dr. Tony Rector, who monitors her medicines and does therapy to help her nerves. Webb usually goes to the emergency room two or three times a year.
“There are lots of times when I know I should go, but I don’t want to,” Webb said. “I know that it will take four hours and really I’d rather just try to sleep it off at home. But occasionally my friends will convince me that it’s bad enough that I need to go and get medicine.”
Webb says she has the greatest friends; friends who know when she isn’t feeling okay, even if she assures them that she is, and who get upset if she doesn’t lean on them when she needs to.
“Jackie Beth and Steve have been with me every time I’ve had to go to the emergency room,” Webb said. “One time we were there, and it was getting late. They both had something big, like a Greek test the next day. I tried to convince them to leave, said that I would be fine, but they both stayed there with me until 4:30 in the morning, then got up the next day and went to their tests. I have friends like that, who will do anything for me.”
Sargent, senior missions major from Mesquite, said that Webb has given him hope, strength and encouragement.
“She realizes that this is a thorn in her flesh, and that her hope is in Jesus Christ and nothing else,” he said.
“The hardest thing about this all has been for me to realize that I do have limitations, but also how to boast in a weakness so that Christ’s power can be more evident, instead of trying to keep it to myself,” Webb said.
Webb hopes her story will open doors to ministry, that she can tell people that their hope can’t come from doctors or school or family or anything else, but only from the Lord.
On days when she wants to scream and throw things she said she finds confidence in knowing that she has not been forgotten by her Heavenly Father.
“I don’t think I would take the sickness back even if I could,” she said after a pause. “It’s made me stronger and it’s made me realize a lot about having joy in circumstances that the world does not find anything good in, and the strength and the joy that I have learned from this have really been helpful when other big issues or problems have come up. It’s a big part of who I am and how I deal with stuff.”
In spite of this, Webb is active in her classes and in her social club, works in the development office, led a Spring Break Campaign to Anchorage, Alaska, and works long days each summer touching the lives of kids at ACU’s Leadership Camps.
“Shiloh is determined not to let it hinder anything she does,” Lane said. “Endurance does not even capture it … it’s beyond that. She maintains a lighthearted spirit in spite of everything, and just lives every day for Christ.”