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Rebecca H. Snyder

May 26, 2012|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson performed surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital on Becky to remove a spinal tumor in October 1988. They are shown together in this 1989 photo.
Submitted photo

Rebecca “Becky” Snyder might have had cognitive and physical disabilities, but she lived life to the fullest, choosing a positive attitude and a life filled with human connections.

“She was never, ever self-conscious in the wheelchair or when she was having learning problems. If kids stared, she’d smile and wave. She basically was more comfortable in her skin than most of us,” said sister Laura Young of Hagerstown.

“She was just able to be herself, confident and poised on top of that,” said nephew Karl Hafer Jr. of Martinsburg, W.Va.

When Helen Snyder went into labor with her third pregnancy in March 1959, she didn’t know she was having twins. It was a complete surprise when two babies, Becky and Paige, were born, said father George Snyder in a phone interview from his Blowing Rock, N.C., home.

George was in his first year in the Maryland Senate, serving from 1959 to 1974, with the family attending many public events. Their older children were George “Chip” Snyder Jr., who was 7, and Laura, 5.

“She was the sweetest person that ever lived. She was absolutely amazing. This little girl produced so much happiness for so many,” said George, who talked to Becky by phone every Sunday.

When Becky was about 6 months old, her parents noticed her head seemed to be getting bigger. She eventually was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid inside the skull that leads to brain swelling.

Becky’s cognitive and physical development was affected as a result. The treatment involved surgically inserting a shunt system to divert the fluid.

There were nine surgeries to insert various types of shunts within a two-year period. Two neurosurgeons told her parents Becky wouldn’t live 10 years, George said, but she defied the odds many times.

The shunt surgeries were only the beginning of a lifetime of medical procedures. In all, Becky endured 41 major procedures, including the insertion of a spinal rod to correct scoliosis — curvature of the spine — and kyphosis — a curving of the back which leads to a hunchback posture.

She went through removal of a spinal tumor by renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1988, a leg amputation after a fall led to cellulitis in 2001 and she faced colon cancer surgery in 2010. She also developed epilepsy as a result of the hydrocephalus.

Becky’s surgery was the first of the day with Carson and it just happened to be the day “Good Morning America” was filming him, so Becky had to sign a release so she could be filmed.

Just before the surgery, Becky lost the ability to walk. Until then, she had had to re-learn how to walk many times, sister Laura said, but was wheelchair-bound after that.

Whether it was the brace she wore for years for scoliosis or the full body cast she was in for months after her spinal rod surgery, Becky was a trouper.

“She never, never complained. That’s the kind of strength she had,” Laura said.

Becky went to Woodland Way Elementary School for two years for kindergarten, but by her first-grade year, she couldn’t make it up the steps to the school so went to Pangborn Elementary instead, Laura said.

A doctor with connections at The Benedictine School in Ridgely, Md., suggested the family consider that school for Becky, although they thought at age 11, she was too old to be admitted.

Instead, she was accepted and lived at the residential school for individuals with intellectual disabilities and multiple disabilities on the Eastern Shore until she was 21. Becky came home for visits every five weeks, Laura said.

George and Helen divorced in 1975 and he moved to Florida. Becky used to fly by herself to visit her father, Laura said. 

Becky lived at home with her mother until Helen’s death in 2008. Laura, her husband, Marshall Young, and their daughter, Katie Young, lived in the lower level of Helen’s home, while Becky and Helen lived on the main floor.

Marshall had known Becky since 1971, when he started dating Laura in high school.

“She was an incredible girl,” Marshall said, wiping away tears.

Becky was Katie’s godmother, a special bond Katie wears in the form of a tattoo on her wrist with a “K” and a “B” linked with a skeleton key, designed by Paige’s son, Christian Hafer. Katie said they had all been together for Mother’s Day and that it turned into a Godmother’s Day celebration for Becky.

“I basically grew up with her until my junior year of college,” Katie said.

Becky first lived in a medical group home through ARC of Washington County, but was the only one in the home who could speak. Social by nature, Becky loved going to a day program where she had the social interaction she craved, Laura said.

“Becky wanted to be on her own like everyone else,” Laura said. 

Following her cancer surgery in February 2010, she was on a ventilator and eventually was placed at Western Maryland Hospital Center. It was expected to be a longer recovery, but Becky was off the ventilator in three days.

The family was thrilled when Laura got the call from Western Maryland Hospital Center that a permanent placement was available for Becky, who moved in on her birthday, March 15, 2010.

“She was so happy at Western Maryland. She loved it there,” Laura said.

The center’s van for residents allowed Becky to make Sunday visits to Laura’s house, which she always looked forward to. Laura visited most days of the week and would go with Becky on outings with other center residents such as to Valley Mall and Charles Town, W.Va.

“She liked the slots,” Laura said.

Another highlight for Becky was her job through ARC from 1980 to 1988. The job involved assembling small pieces, stuffing envelopes and doing linens for local restaurants.

Becky worked near the Broad Axe and Monday paydays meant Becky’s ritual of taking a friend to lunch at the restaurant. One of her first tasks after work on Mondays, in addition to starting to pack her lunch and prepare her medications for the next day, was to line up her lunch date for the next week, Laura said.

Karl said Becky was a “hands-on aunt.” He moved back to the area after college in 2006 and said in the past year, got to see her on most Sunday visits to Laura’s house.

“I got to see how much she enjoyed life,” Karl said.

When Paige, who lived in Sarasota, Fla., died in November 2011, her twin had had a feeling something was wrong. Becky woke up about 4 a.m. and was inconsolable and the staff couldn’t figure out why, Laura said.

“Becky said she had a funny feeling that something had happened to Paige,” Laura said.

Despite an early May hospitalization, Becky had seemed fine when the family gathered for Mother’s Day, four days before she died. Most likely, Becky probably hadn’t shared with the family that she was having pain, Laura said.

“She got up every day to live. She fought every day from the time she was six months on,” Laura said.

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Rebecca H. Snyder who died May 17 at the age of 53. Her obituary was published in the May 20 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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