Jan Scheuermann, the Whitehall Borough resident who is making worldwide news as part of a groundbreaking UPMC and University of Pittsburgh brain-computer interface study, has gone back to her roots—all the way back to her former elementary school in south Baldwin Borough.
On Friday morning, Scheuermann celebrated Mass alongside students from Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic School before wheeling in front of the Saint Elizabeth Church altar to talk about her disease, her faith and the crazy turn that her life has taken into the very public eye.
Scheuermann, 53, grew up on Brentview Drive—just two blocks from the church/school—and finished her time at Saint E's as a 1977 graduate of the now-defunct Saint Elizabeth High School.
A successful fiction writer and murder-mystery-parties host—she told the students how she once "killed" Saint E's Pastor Dale DeNinno—Scheuermann developed spinocerebellar degeneration while living across the country in California in the mid-1990s. The disorder eventually left her paralyzed from the neck down, and she returned to the Pittsburgh area to raise her children, eventually sending them to Baldwin High School.
Still an active writer—she published murder mystery novel Sharp as a Cucumber for the Amazon Kindle in July—Scheuermann volunteered for the UPMC/Pitt study, and the rest is (ongoing) history. Read more about her brain-science project here.
Scheuermann's story of how, following brain surgery, she can now move a robotic arm with her thoughts was featured in an episode of CBS' "60 Minutes" on Dec. 30.
Scheuermann opened up on Friday in front of a group of sixth-, seventh- and eight-graders about how she handles being a quadriplegic, both physically and spiritually.
Among the difficult questions that Saint E's students had for Scheuermann were "How did you tell your kids (about your disease)?" and "Did you lose faith in God?"
Answered Scheuermann to the former, "I guess they really noticed when I couldn't drive them to school any more. I said, 'My legs are getting weaker, and we don't know why.'
"And it was just a matter of telling them the truth."
To the latter, Scheuermann answered, "I never lost faith in God. That's one blessing of faith. I just knew God was with me all the time.
"I prayed for other people because I knew other people were praying for me."
When asked about all of the media attention that she has received, Scheuermann said, flashing the sense of humor that has made coping with her disease at least a bit easier, "Today, I am speaking to you in front of cameras, in front of the media, with no makeup.
"That takes a little bit of courage."
View the video and photos in the media gallery above to catch some of Scheuermann's appearance.
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