A Faith Saginaw Magazine Story
Erin Carlson | Photography by Sarah Moore Kuschell
When Melissa Davert was born, doctors told her parents she would never learn to sit up on her own. The youngest of seven children, Melissa was diagnosed with a brittle bone disease known as Osteogenesis imperfecta. She was the only one in her family to suffer from this condition, which causes her bones to fracture very easily.
Melissa recalls a story her father related to her about the conversation he had with her doctor shortly after she was born. The doctor had just finished listing all the things she would never do. “My dad looked at him and asked, ‘Does she have a brain?’” Melissa says. When the doctor nodded his head yes, Melissa says her father confidently declared, “Well, if she has a brain, she’ll overcome.” And, overcome she did.
As a toddler, Melissa got around using a tiny skateboard. Sitting on it with her legs stretched out in front of her, she used her arms to scoot about until she got her first wheelchair. Melissa, now 52, said her family provided constant loving support, reassuring her whenever she was discouraged. “My parents would tell me, ‘There is a purpose for your disability’ and ‘You might not know it now, but you will someday,’” says Melissa. “They taught me to have faith and trust in God’s plan.”
Despite hundreds of fractures in her bones, resulting in countless surgeries, Melissa had a normal childhood in many ways. Her family helped strengthen her faith, and also nurtured her sense of humor. Because they never put any limitations on her, Melissa didn’t limit herself either. She defied the odds and amazed doctors by learning how to drive a car. Alongside her peers, she graduated from Bay City Central High School and then continued on to college. She selected Northwood University in Midland, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Melissa’s education, along with her life experience, served her well in the role of executive director at The Center for Independent Living in Midland, where she worked for 13 years. She advocated for disability issues and even hosted a weekly television program that aired locally on MCTV (community television) in Midland.
Along the way, Melissa met her future husband, Ken Davert. Ken grew up in Kawkawlin and, with the support of his family and friends, overcame many challenges in life related to cerebral palsy. He and Melissa were married in 1992 at Sacred Heart Church in Kawkawlin.
In the early years of their marriage, the couple assumed they would never be able to have children. To their surprise, six years later, they found out Melissa was pregnant. Although only 2 feet, 11 ½ inches tall, Melissa said her doctor was able to find cases in which other women her size were able to carry a baby to full term. Then 12 weeks into the pregnancy, Melissa and Ken lost their baby. Relying on faith and hope, they decided to try again. They were not disappointed.
“I can remember going to the doctor’s that day,” Melissa says. “He said, ‘I see a sac and a heartbeat, but I see another sac ... you’re having twins!’ My husband and I were stunned. He was leaning against the wall and I was laying there thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’
When I was driving home, though, I kept thinking, ‘God just gave us the two most precious gifts and we’re going to do whatever we can to bring those babies into the world.’”
Ken and Melissa were optimistic, but not all the doctors shared their enthusiasm. While medical books contained documented cases of women Melissa’s size delivering one baby, nothing could be found about a woman her size delivering twins. The major concern was that as the babies grew, they would eventually crowd Melissa’s heart and lungs, causing her to suffocate. “It was some doctors’ opinions that my husband and I should make a decision to abort one of the babies,” says Melissa. “One of the options we had been given was to have a test to see if either of the babies had my disability. Because, if it came to the point where I would not have been able to bring both of them to term, and we had to make a decision about ... I can’t even say it ... which one to let go.
It was horrifying to even think that we would make a decision like that, but it was also insulting to me that we would make a decision based upon whether one or the other had a disability, because I’ve had a disability all my life, and I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone.”
This experience inspired Melissa and Ken to see Dr. Daniel Wechter, a maternal fetal medicine specialist serving mid-Michigan who is well known for his deeply held pro-life beliefs. “I scanned her and the babies both had the same bone problem she has,” Dr. Wechter says. “I think it was a little bit of a shock to her. She knew it could happen, but after a few minutes of thinking about it, she said, ‘Well you know, who else could take better care of them than I could?’ It was never ‘poor me,’ it was ‘I’ll take care of these kids.’”
Dr. Wechter promised to accompany Melissa and Ken every step of their pregnancy journey, and hoped he could safely get Melissa to 22 weeks. Together, they took it week by week. “I’m a creative thinker,” says Melissa. “I thought, if they’re afraid they’ll grow up into my heart and lungs, I’m going to walk around as much as possible and let gravity do its thing. And, I was in constant conversation with God, telling Him that we wanted the babies, that we were thankful for the gift and that we needed Him. Medical science said it wasn’t going to happen. We needed something beyond medical science to get us through.”
On Sept. 23, 1998, at 32 weeks, Melissa delivered her daughter, Michaela, and her son, Austin, via caesarean section. Ken was in the operating room when the twins were born. “I cried like a baby,” Ken says. “It was the greatest day of my life.”
Nearly 18 years later, Michaela and Austin are graduates of John Glenn High School in Bay City. Michaela has an interest in video and a blog where she reviews skin and make-up products. She has more than 20,000 followers online. Her brother Austin is interested in the medical field and hopes to one day be a physician’s assistant. “I want to bring compassion to people, and medical knowledge from personal experience,” says Austin.
Ken and Melissa have no doubt that God has a plan for both Austin and Michaela. “They’re the two most amazing people I’ve ever met,” Melissa says. Each day, she and her husband are very mindful of the incredible gift of their children. And, while some days present more challenges than others, there is a pervading spirit of joy and love that is evident in each member of the family. “We try to live our lives in a way of gratitude,” says Melissa. “We’re grateful for all the Lord has given to us.” “The Daverts are a wonderful, faith-filled family,” said Father Bert Gohm, their pastor at Corpus Christi Parish in Bay City. “Despite their challenges they radiate joy and are an integral part of our parish community. They are an inspiration to many of us, including me.”