He was once a tough guy -- a wrestler who hoped to make a career out of throwing other guys around the ring. Now, Steven Sharp is a stay-at-home dad and a loving caregiver, and he has a message that he wants to share with the world.
Sharp's seven-year-old daughter, Samantha, has faced unique and harrowing challenges since birth. Through her struggles, the father, who has always stood by her side, has been profoundly changed. Considering that he may be running out of time, though, he is looking to share her plight with the world in hopes of securing her legacy and changing hearts and minds.
Sharp shared his tragic, yet uplifting, story with TheBlaze, telling us how Samantha -- who has never spoken, walked or talked -- has transformed his life -- and how he hopes to translate her story into a life-changing documentary.
Sharp's Back Story
As a stay-at-home dad, Sharp cares for his daughter full-time. The role is one that differs profoundly from what he had originally hoped to do.
Photo Credit: Twitter/@disableddad
For much of his adult life, Sharp was an aspiring wrestler. Looking to take his abilities to the professional level, he worked for nearly a decade and gave it "the best shot" he could.
"I would travel up and down the road, living out of a Ford Escort," he said of the years prior to his marriage and before his daughter, Samantha, arrived. "I worked various jobs just to keep me going [and] would wrestle on the weekends."
Sharp during his wrestling days (Photo Credit: Twitter/@disableddad)
When the career path didn't quite pan out, he recalls being heartbroken and subsequently searching for his purpose. He met his wife just before he quit the profession, having sustained back injuries and 14 diagnosed concussions.
After they married, they decided to start a family.
Samantha's Complications at Birth
In 2006, his wife (who now works as a teacher at Fort Bragg Army base in North Carolina) became pregnant with Samantha. At the time, his wife was working for the military and the couple was living in Germany; they were in the process of relocating to Japan. While the Sharps were overjoyed at the prospects of starting their family, they were also very nervous due to four previous miscarriages (they ended up staying in Germany for the birth).
"We were so neurotic my wife wouldn't even have an aspirin when she had a headache," Sharp told TheBlaze. "Come delivery time, you know, it didn't go exactly the way it should have gone."
Watch him tell the story, below:
He didn't go into overt detail, as the subject is difficult for him to discuss (he said that he didn't want to "name names"), but due to a medical error, Samantha experienced a lack of oxygen to the brain during her delivery on Feb. 2, 2006. His wife, too, had complications during the natural birth when the baby became "stuck," resulting in a condition called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.
"Perinatal asphyxia, more appropriately known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, is characterized by clinical and laboratory evidence of acute or subacute brain injury due to asphyxia," Medscape.com explains. "The primary causes of this condition are systemic hypoxemia and/or reduced cerebral blood flow (CBF)."
This tragic event has forever changed the child's life, leaving her severely disabled. Naturally, it has subsequently transformed her parents' lives.
The Young Child's Many Battles
The battle has not been an easy one. Sharp said that, considering his family's standing as civilians working for the Armed Forces, the military tried, unsuccessfully, to push the family into the German health care system.
"They kept trying to push us out of the military system and into the German health care system," Sharp said, noting that he and his wife pushed back. "They kept recommending over and over and over again that [they] might not be able to [handle Samantha's care]."
In the end, though, the family stayed in the military system.
The nightmare didn't end there, though, as the Sharp family faced so many harrowing challenges in the months and years that followed. Samantha was left with a 75 to 80 percent loss of her cortex and, as a result, doctors weren't even initially able to tell the family whether she was in a vegetative state.
Sharp during his wrestling days (Photo Credit: Twitter/@disableddad)
From there, the medical issues worsened. Throughout her short life, she "coded" (nearly died and needed to be resuscitated) five times and has experienced serious infections that hold the potential to kill her.
"She doesn't speak. She never will. She doesn't walk, she doesn't laugh, she doesn't cry," Sharp told TheBlaze, noting that his daughter still does show some emotion and that she recognizes his voice.
The battle for Samantha's life continues. Sharp and his wife have no idea how long she will survive, so they cherish every moment they have with her. Caring for her is, of course, expensive, but the military -- based on action that the Sharp family took following the birth -- is handling all of the expenses.
"The person we hold responsible was an Air Force mid-wife," he explained. "When all the investigating was said and done, we thought she would be sitting in a jail cell."
But the individual was never held accountable, he contends. Sharp did say, though, that he and his wife launched the equivalent of a lawsuit, filing a grievance under the Military Claims Act (claims made under non-combatant scenarios). In the end, the family won and the parents were given $100,000 each. That's also how they got the military to pay for Samantha's care.
"What they have agreed to do was basically what I asked them to do," he said. "I don't ever want to see a medical bill. I'll give them credit for that."
The Lessons Samantha Has Taught Her Father
As mentioned, Sharp is Samantha's full-time caregiver. While his wife works, he provides for his daughter's daily needs. TheBlaze asked what a typical day looks like and he was candid.
"A typical day starts around 5:30 -- I get up, she has five medications that she has to have. I go into Sam's room, I have to change her," he said. "Sometimes when my back is killing me, my wife has to help me with that."
After he brushes her hair and cares for her, Sharp brings his daughter into the living room and puts on cartoons. While she doesn't speak, he said that she responds to some shows more than others.
Sharp intensely loves his daughter, which is shown through his devotion and care. But it's not just a one-way street. In fact, he credits Samantha with profoundly changing his life and with teaching him valuable lessons, despite her never saying one word.
"She has taught me with all of my aches and pains -- she has taught me that not one of them compares to what she goes through without ever saying a word," he said. "The kid has inspired me. The kid -- without ever saying anything to me she -- basically opened the door to Jesus Christ."
Last October, Sharp described a horrible infection that Samantha came down with (she is prone to illnesses that further put her life at risk). While his wife has always been religious and while he claims he has always had a belief in God, watching his daughter in the hospital last year changed something within him.
"I have become much more acutely aware of my personal faith because of her," Sharp said, noting that his Christian beliefs have solidified because of his daughter's struggles.
Photo Credit: Twitter/@disableddad
He also credits Samantha with making him "more patient with people." The caring father told TheBlaze that he once struggled when people stopped and gawked at his daughter. The pain and anger that it caused led him to, at moments, lash out at offenders. But in time, he said that patience set in. While he obviously doesn't like people staring, he has learned to cope with it.
"We keep her [relatively] sheltered, but we always go somewhere," he said of the balance between keeping Samantha home and letting her experience as much of the world as she possibly can. "We have shoved as much living in her little body as we can."
Samantha isn't only impacting her parents, Sharp says. She's also making an impression on others she encounters. People are generally impressed to see the family out and about -- and they're moved by Samantha's story.
"Every time somebody meets her, they ask what happened -- they say, 'I'm so sorry,'" he explained. "My response is, 'Don't be sorry. She's not dead. She's right here."
How He Hopes to Shape Her Legacy
Considering that Samantha's future isn't guaranteed, Sharp recently began thinking of ways that he can potentially shape and solidify her legacy. He had hoped to create a foundation and a scholarship in her name, since she will never go to college. But the money that the government provided following the family's grievance wasn't enough to accomplish these goals.
So, Sharp is looking to raise funds for a film called "Amazing Grace & Dad." He has launched an IndieGoGo campaign in an effort to raise $10,000 to produce the movie -- one that he hopes will provide a lens into Samantha's life, while helping to change the individuals who watch it (here's more about the film).
Screen shot from the IndieGoGo campaign
A description of the movie reads, in part:
I plan to film for one full year and document the good, and yes, the bad because once completed, I am certain if even ONE person sees the film, and take something good away from it -The film will have been a raging success.
What am I trying to accomplish? It’s really simple in one aspect but very complicated in another. Education. Education because when it comes to families like mine people understanding what is going on when they encounter us and other families like ours, it is really lacking. Samantha has taught everyone who has met her that even though they might have problems, or be having a bad day, that problems and challenges are there to be OVERCOME. Adversity is there to be defeated. .
Even though I have sheltered Samantha as much as humanly possible I owe it to her to share her story and her gifts with as many people as possible.
The film's motto is "overcome, inspire, teach" -- and that's what Sharp hopes to accomplish in the hearts of viewers. But he's worried that the clock is ticking. Samantha has repeatedly been ill with infections and he's unsure how much time she has left.
"I kind of feel like I'm running out of time," he told TheBlaze. "I want to give her a legacy, I want her name to be there when I'm gone and she's gone, I want someone to pick up on this, use it and learn from it."
He shares more about his story, below, including his faith journey:
Sharp believes that people have a lot to learn from those with disabilities. He's already filmed some footage, but he's hoping to raise enough funds to get the project completed. The project, he says, was created after closely analyzing how he can give his daughter the legacy she deserves.
"The only way I know how to do that is to make a documentary about her life and how she overcomes so much adversity and teaches HOW to overcome adversity, without ever saying a word," he writes on the project's description. "Doing this is the least I can do for a little girl who has done so much for me."