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This is Carolina: Friends, former students rally behind retired Myrtle Beach teacher after botched knee surgery

Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 5:39 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Debi Hamilton will offer you water and lemon water, muffins and all Southern comforts when you walk into her home.

She’ll tell you she grew up “to do for others.” Right now, her love for others is paying off to help her in ways some may have not believed possible.

After a routine knee replacement surgery turned her life upside down, those she’s touched are helping her reclaim her life.

“Three years ago I went in for a simple knee replacement. And 14 surgeries later, now I’m losing a leg. I don’t understand what happened. I mean, I understand, but I certainly don’t understand God’s plan,” Hamilton told WMBF News. “It’s been 14 surgeries and three bacteria infections. And it just, the bacteria infection just destroyed everything that I had.”

All the bone in Hamilton’s right leg has been removed. Now, what was once bone has been replaced with a rod. Her right leg is dead weight she must move herself while being constrained to life in a wheelchair.

Her doctors told her all she can do is amputate her leg, to live a life free of the dead weight. It’s a surgery that may be scheduled within a month. It’s not the lifestyle fit for a woman who was known for her work for others.

Hamilton is known as the beloved retired Myrtle Beach teacher with more than 25 years invested, a loving mother to two boys, wife to her late husband and servant to the church. She went on mission trips to Haiti, worked with breast cancer groups and was deeply involved in the Celebrate Recovery mission around the Grand Strand.

Longtime friend, Shawn Norton, stepped in to help Hamilton when her post-surgery woes began. He’s been by her side since.

“She’s an amazing woman. It’s been a long hard journey,” he said.

Her other friend, Randy Neubauer, came into her life last year after Hamilton’s dog survived a coyote attack.

“And he said, ‘Tell me the story of why you’re in this wheelchair.’ So from there it’s been gone, gone, gone,” Hamilton said with a laugh.

She’s had needs for a new wheelchair to gain more independence, a van to accommodate her and the wheelchair and a renovated bathroom that fits the new wheelchair. Her prayers were answered.

Her friends surprised her first last November with a life-changing down payment for a van. Many of those donations came from over a hundred of Hamilton’s former students from Myrtle Beach Elementary, Middle and High Schools.

“There were 100 students that came back. I saw their names on the list. They’d come back and made a donation. I don’t know what the donation was, it could’ve been a quarter, but that’s OK. They made the effort to come back. And it meant more to me than words could ever tell you. So I’m forever grateful,” Hamilton said.

A month later, a gift was waiting for her at Beach Church’s Christmas Eve service.

Norton and Neubauer surprised her with her new, automatic wheelchair. It reclines, moves fast and goes in all directions.

Then, during her interview with WMBF on Monday, her biggest worry was put to rest. She’d be able to stay in her home after the leg amputation.

“I have this wonderful wheelchair, but my house was not built for all of this to happen. And I have a bathroom that’s not ready, and I can’t use it. I can’t use my chair because it can’t go in the bathroom, and so I’m stuck with this wonderful chair and now they’re trying to figure out a way to remodel the bathroom in the house,” Hamilton explained in tears.

Neubauer stepped in.

“Debi, I’m going to interrupt you. We have some good news to share with you. That whole bathroom is sponsored.” Hamilton burst into tears.

Love prevailed again. Her 68 years of work for others came back around, and her prayers were answered in giving her the love and tools she needed to overcome the deck she’s been dealt.

“We’ve prayed for miracles to let her leg be healed, and we’ve come to the reality of the fact that the miracle is going to look different than what we thought it was going to be. God’s not done in her life, clearly. He’s got a plan for her. He’s going to do something different. And it’s going to be a bigger miracle than we ever would’ve expected,” Norton said.

If you are a former student of Hamilton’s or have been touched by her story, you can donate to her medical fund.

Donation information is as follows:

Debi Hamilton Medical Fund

c/o Paul Peeples

630 29th Ave N, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577

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