Postmaster’s book celebrates faith, perseverance
When Susan Spahn was in high school, her 12-year-old brother, Billy Spahn, dove off of a pier, broke his neck and was paralyzed. He nearly drowned.
The athletic boy dreamed of becoming a Green Bay Packer, and though doctors assumed he would never walk again, his family never gave up on him.
“Never Give Up” is the title of Spahn’s first book which she self-published. It has gone on to earn a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Book Awards and won the award for the New Non-Fiction Self Published Category. It also received a Medallion Award in the July Book Readers Appreciation Group, or B.R.A.G.
A Sun Prairie native, Spahn is the Waunakee Postmaster, and said the book took eight years to write.
She was attending Upper Iowa University, working on finishing her degree when she took an elective course in creating writing. One assignment was to design a book cover.
Hers, of a boy diving off of a pier with the title “Never Give Up,” was voted best in the class.
The professor offered to help her write the book then.
That weekend, her father told her, “Billy’s given up,” she said. He later explained her brother had searched for years for a ghost writer who would tell the story of his courage through the paralysis. She then approached her brother.
“We got together a few times,” she said, as part of the process. It was published last year.
The book tells the story of the family’s persistent faith in their brother’s ability to recover.
Initially after the drowning accident, he was transported to a hospital in Adams County before being moved to Marshfield.
“No one took him seriously,” she said of the staff.
Despite the bleak prognosis, her parents continued to believe he would walk again, and her father, Bill Spahn Sr., invented equipment, crafting boots to wear to prevent him from suffering from drop foot.
After Billy was moved to Meriter Hospital, he began to work with a physical therapist. That doctor, Jerry Enstrom, has chapters in the book and relates his treatment.
After Billy told Enstrom he could move his big toe, Enstrom, too began to have faith.
Thirty-three days later, Billy was walking again.
“I’ve had a number of bright spots over the years, and Bill Spahn Jr. was definitely one of them,” Enstrom says in the book. “It is extremely gratifying to be able give a kid back his life, especially a kid as young as Billy was at that time.”
All told, it took four and half months after the drowning accident for Billy to walk again.
Bill Spahn Jr. didn’t grow up to become a Packer, but he did work at his father’s liquor store and he did have his own fishing show, Fishing Wisconsin TV.com. He also ended up owning five Subway restaurants.
When his show was about to go nationwide, Bill Spahn again faced paralysis, this time from the waist down, after a back surgery. Once again, he would need to recover, regain his strength and walk again. It too 33 days.
Spahn said the book is about how, as young people, we don’t think about the consequences of what we do. She recalled her brother and his friends digging a large hole, then driving his 1972 Cutlass Supreme into it and being unable to drive out. Finally, monster trucks came to the rescue.
She also hopes young people read the book, she said.
“I’d like to get it into kids’ hands,” she said, adding she’s loaned it to several little libraries and donated it schools.
“I’ve had a few people tell me it changed the way they let their kids swim in lakes or pools,” Spahn added.
Much of it is told from Bill Spahn Jr.’s point of view growing up in Sun Prairie.
The real hero of the book, Susan Spahn said, is their father, who did everything in his power to see his son walk again.
Still, her brother deserves some credit, too. As he puts it in the book, “…the most important reason I did not end up as a quadriplegic is because I never gave up, and neither did anyone else.”
Spahn will give an author talk at the Drumlin Ridge Winery on Sunday, Sept. 24, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. The winery is at 6000 River Road in the Town of Westport.