Heroes Don't All Wear Capes


As children, if we are lucky, we grow up believing that our moms are heroes. Mother's Day is one day a year that we go out of our way to thank the women who rescued us from the monsters under our beds, bad boyfriends, and even worse haircuts. Today, in honor of this upcoming celebration of the women who gave us life and purpose, I want to share with you the incredible, unbelievable story of a woman who is a hero not only to me, but to a community. My mother, Shawn Carlstedt, is truly the most remarkable woman I have ever known.

Let’s start at the beginning.  My mom is currently 52 years old, has blonde hair (although some of that is fake), blue eyes, and a contagious laugh. She is brutally honest, bitingly witty, and exceedingly kind. She is a phenomenal cook, decorator, and present buyer.  Oh, and she’s an amazing teacher. That is really her passion. Mrs. Carlstedt is a first and second grade teacher at Rosenwald-Dunbar Elementary School. She spends countless hours in the classroom not because she wants the best test scores, but because she has a special place in her heart for each and every one of her students. She not only educates them, she loves them.  My mom attends birthday parties, soccer games, dance recitals, and choir concerts just because “[her] children need fans.” So this blog could be about my mother winning Elementary School Teacher of the Year in her district, or how she crafts young minds daily, or how she spends all of her expendable income on children’s books and art supplies, but that is just the beginning of her journey.

On Wednesday, July 30, 2014, my mother had a minor outpatient surgery. On Friday, August 1, 2014, a carcass of the woman my mother had once been was admitted to the ICU.  Her blood had gone septic, and the doctors mumbled “multiple organ failure.” On Saturday, August 2, 2014, the body of my mother was put on life support. On Sunday, August 3, 2014, they told us she would not make it through the hour. But she did. And then she made it through the night, the day, and the week.

I cannot tell you why my mother’s body entered into sepsis, or why every vital organ, save her heart and brain, failed her. Teams of specialists and incredible doctors cannot tell you the cause, though not for lack of trying. But what I can tell you is that my mother is a fighter.  The doctors said she wouldn’t make it because of scientific, medical reasoning, but even in a medically induced coma, my mom knew that defying logic was her only option.  I am the oldest of three girls, and in addition to her classroom and her students, we are what she loves most in this world. She knew we needed her. She knew that she had to help us put on our wedding dresses, hold her grandbabies, and coach us through this crazy thing called life. Because that's what moms do, and my mom knew we still very much needed her.

My mother also survived because my family and the community pulled together in an amazing way. My aunt Shana, my mom’s younger sister, was our rock; she fought for the best possible care for my mom. My sister Lindsey was not only responsible for getting my mother to the hospital, but she took on the caregiver role. She recorded notes the entire process concerning numbers, statistics, and medications; Lindsey then conveyed the good news and the bad news to my mother’s adoring fans and constant prayer warriors. My other sister Delaney took on the role of encourager.  She would not let anyone believe my mother was going to die, and led our family and friends in the most fervent, uplifting, pleading of prayers on a continual basis. I loved my mom as best I could by not leaving her side. I read books and told her stories, and sometimes yelled at her that she wasn’t going to leave me. In each of us girls, you could see the handprint of a mother who loved more than humanly possible. My mom was the caregiver, the encourager, and the storyteller.  Lindsey comforted friends because Mom would have done that. Delaney prayed and remained optimistic because Mom demonstrated how that kind of strength was inside each of us. I played with my mom’s hair and told her about the current events, because she taught us that our minds are powerful if we keep them busy. I couldn’t begin to tell you all the people that showed up for her. At any given time, there would be between five and 60 people in the waiting room at the hospital. People brought food, money, fresh clothes, and stories of how she had touched them. So many stories. It was amazing to meet my mom’s students and parents of her students. They adored her, and the kids’ presents of bracelets and signs would be Mom’s favorites once she woke up. Which she did. To the surprise of the doctors, but not to a single person who knew her, my mother lived.

Unfortunately, there were complications due to my mother’s illness. The pressers that the doctors had prescribed to push the blood to my mom’s essential organs drained the blood from her appendages. Ultimately, there was nothing they could do to save her extremities.  On Thursday, August 28th, my mom had her legs amputated. On Tuesday, September 2nd, she had her right hand and the fingers from her left hand amputated. But this horrible outcome has not deterred Shawn Carlstedt. The first thing she wanted to know when she woke up was how long until she would be back in school. Even after the amputation surgeries, mom wanted the fastest recovery and the most intense physical therapy possible. By October, Mom was attending faculty meetings at school. By February of 2015, Mom was regularly volunteering at RDES, and by April 6, 2015, she was back in the classroom on a full-time basis. Did I mention that my mother is incredible?

Currently, she walks on prosthetic legs, and is completely independent, save having to be chauffeured around. Which is the one thing she actually complains about, but it is worth having someone dropping her off at school, because she feels that Rosenwald Dunbar Elementary School is home. Being back at school has been the absolute best medicine in the world.  There, she isn’t a quad amputee, a medical conundrum, or a miracle—she’s just a teacher.  Of course, the students are curious. They ask what happened, if she’s a zombie, and if it still hurts. They label her stubs as “creepy,” “cool,” and “kinda weird,” but they want to touch her “boo-boos” and all seem to express the same sentiment that they wish this didn’t happen to her. One class wrote letters to my mom and they all expressed that they were glad she was still alive. It’s that simple to seven-year olds. She lived. Mom has a long way to go. She still wants to learn to drive on her own, to learn how to operate the super advanced electronic hand, and to establish what her new “normal” is. Not that my mother could ever be normal, because she is extraordinary. She fought for us whilst in her coma, she fought to get back into the classroom, and she continues to fight for the life that was so abruptly taken from her last summer.  She has not lost a step, metaphorically speaking. My mother was an inspiration before tragedy struck, but now, she is a beacon of hope and encouragement on metal legs.

Happy Mother's Day to my amazing mother and all the other incredible moms out there. We need heroes like you.

Until next time,




The Jessamine Journal: http://www.centralkynews.com/jessaminejournal/news/local/comeback-carlstedt-jessamine-teacher-returns-to-classroom-sooner-than-expected/article_56864602-ff31-11e4-b968-bb58ad9b3a00.html