PHOTO COURTESY AMBER LOVEJOY A TIME FOR JOY — Avery Lovejoy, at right end in wheelchair, joins in celebrating Christmas with her sisters and Santa. From left are Addisyn, Alys, Alexis, Aleah and Avery.

Faith, hope and love are sustaining a Deltona family of seven navigating a rough patch in life.

Tyler and Amber Lovejoy are relying on God, each other and friends to help get through the crises that beset them and their children — especially their 7-year-old daughter, Avery, struggling with birth defects.

Having a child born with disabilities is enough.

But Tyler Lovejoy is also struggling to overcome injuries from a car wreck.

“It’s been a devastating couple of months,” Amber Lovejoy continued. “He [Tyler] wants to go back to work, but he suffers from herniated discs.”

The Lovejoy family is now trying to fend off poverty resulting from Tyler’s inability to work. The crash also left the family with no vehicle to run errands, including getting Tyler and Avery to medical appointments.

Tyler Lovejoy’s skills include roofing and carpentry — two trades now in high demand in Central Florida’s hyper-hot housing market.

The wreck occurred on State Road 415 near Sanford in November, Amber said, when Tyler T-boned a car stopped on the road.

“He couldn’t avoid it,” she said. “All the bags in the car went off.”

The cushioning, however, did not prevent damage to Tyler’s back.

The driver of the car Tyler struck was cited for causing the accident, Amber added, but Tyler was still on the losing end, because the insurance settlement had to pay off the outstanding loan on his vehicle. The family has been without a car since, and they cannot afford to buy another without an income to sustain the payments. Tyler hopes to recover from the back injury.

Meanwhile, as household bills mount, he is still awaiting action on his applications for unemployment compensation and disability payments under Social Security.

“Everything is still in review,” he said.

BEACON PHOTO/AL EVERSON
FACING AND OVERCOMING CHALLENGES TOGETHER — Amber and Tyler Lovejoy stand together outside their home in Deltona, hoping their family’s fortunes will improve sooner rather than later. A car wreck in November disabled Tyler, a construction worker, leaving the Lovejoys with no income and no family car. The slow movement of government bureaucracy is stalling unemployment and disability compensation for Tyler, while he and his wife care for a child with severe birth defects.

At the center of the Lovejoy family’s nonstop attention is Avery. She was born with a condition known as arthrogryposis, which means she has deformed or curved joints and limbs, as well as a lack of developed muscles.

“Arthrogryposis is not genetic,” Amber said. “Sometimes it just happens. … Our first doctor, when she was born, said he had never heard of it.”

Dealing with the condition has been a long, rough road for the Lovejoys.

“She has had 17 surgeries and 28 procedures,” Amber said. “She’s affected from her shoulders down to her hips and knees.”

“When she was a baby, she would not move at all,” Avery’s mother added. “She’ll never be like a typical kid, but she will be self-sufficient.”

Despite her condition, Avery’s mother said, her daughter is not showing any sense of depression or sadness.

“She’s generally happy,” Amber said.

Avery just completed another round of operations earlier this month to correct the deformities. “She came out of surgery with a smile on her face,” her mom said.

The latest round of corrective measures included breaking and straightening a thumb on one hand, the work of a medical team at The Shriners’ Hospital in Philadelphia skilled in treating the rather rare congenital condition. 

Arthrogryposis afflicts approximately one of every 3,000 children. Lovejoy said she and her husband must travel to Philadelphia because they could not find Florida physicians who can treat Avery’s condition.

“I had three doctors in Tampa and Orlando tell me that she wouldn’t walk, that she wouldn’t sit unassisted, but they don’t know for sure,” she added.

Avery is making progress, Amber said, with small but notable victories. Parents often take pride in their child’s first steps. Amber recalled her 7-year-old daughter’s first time standing upright, in early November.

“She stood for about 25 seconds, until she realized no one was holding her, and it scared her,” she said.

Though Avery uses a wheelchair and has been fitted with special braces on her legs, her mother said she is quite intelligent and has potential to achieve and grow beyond her disabilities. Avery is enrolled in a special-needs class at Enterprise Elementary School.

Despite her physical limitations, Avery has mental awareness and ability, her mother noted.

“She can recognize 22 letters in the alphabet,” Amber said.

Avery requires intense care, and Amber is doing her best to make certain she gets it.

“We have an occupational therapist that comes to the house three times a week,” Amber said.

Avery also gets physical therapy. Though she is “nonverbal” — she does not talk — she also receives speech therapy.

“I’m a very involved parent when it comes to her care. I don’t just take her to therapy and let them do their thing. I massage her twice a day and stretch her twice a day — fingers, toes, arms, legs,” Amber said.

The Lovejoy family also has an aboveground pool in their backyard to help Avery exercise.

Medicaid helps meet most — but not all — of Avery’s care-related expenses. When the family travels to and from Philadelphia, they incur some costs.

“The Shriners will reimburse for hotels and flights. They don’t cover rental cars, which I need to carry her equipment,” Amber said.

Sometimes, she said, the family can stay without charge at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia while Avery is hospitalized, but those accommodations are not always available.

Through all the trials, however, Amber remains firm in her faith, a faith she acquired as a teenager in her home state of Arizona.

“When I was 17, I got into a car accident. It broke three ribs, and they shredded my liver, my kidney and my spleen and collapsed my right lung,” she said. “The doctor said my liver was shredded, and it was physically impossible for me to recover. My parents told me I was going to die, and they said I should say my goodbyes. I am living proof that God exists.”

Her attending physician also found faith through Amber’s recovery, she said.

“This atheistic doctor said there is no other reason that I was here. Everything that happened to me was physically impossible,” she added, with a smile. “He started going to church.”

Amber’s faith was a factor in her decision to bring Avery into the world. When she was carrying her daughter, she learned through ultrasound exams about her baby’s developmental problems.

“I knew it when I was 20 weeks pregnant,” she said.

Physicians urged her to abort her daughter, Amber recalled, but she refused to consider it.

“If she comes out and God takes her, then God takes her. If she comes out and needs help, I will give her everything that she needs, and I will,” Amber said.

The Lovejoy family lives with hope for a quick rebound — and soon — in their fortunes, as caring friends and neighbors reach out.

In addition to Avery, Tyler and Amber have four other children, all daughters whose first names begin with the letter A: Alys, 14; Alexis, 10; Aleah, 9; and Addisyn, 3.

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Born in Virginia, Al spent his youth in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, and first moved to DeLand in 1969. He graduated from Stetson University in 1971, and returned to West Volusia in 1985. Al began working for The Beacon as a stringer in 1999, contributing articles on county and municipal government and, when he left his job as the one-man news department at Radio Station WXVQ, began working at The Beacon full time.

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