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Traveling Boy means the travel adventures of the Traveiling Boitanos
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Brom Wikstrom

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is from Mr. Wikstrom's recent sermon at Seattle's Magnolia Presbyterian Church. A film about Brom's life is in pre-production in Hollywood.

There But for the Grace of God
By Brom Wikstrom

he thought occurs to me that many people have shared that sentiment in regard to my life in the same way I would to someone who is homeless, breathes with a respirator or who is blind. But I know that the grace of God is infinite and I feel honored to share the story of how Christ has shaped my life and led me to be here with you.

Many of you know that I was brought up here on Magnolia and that I sustained a spinal cord injury while swimming in New Orleans when I was 21. That I had trained as an artist prior to my injury and now create designs with my mouth for greeting cards and calendars that are marketed worldwide. You might also know that my wife Anné and I are building a new home nearby and we both are looking forward to sharing it during supper club and other events.

You might not know that I was first introduced to the teachings of Christ by attending seven years of Catholic school across Interbay at St. Margaret’s Parish. There I recited my prayers in Latin and served mass as an altar boy. So devoted to that faith were my parents that my first name, "Victor," was from the name of the parish priest in my parent’s Spokane church where they first worshipped together and were wed.

Brom and Anne Wikstrom above the Chain Bridge in Budapest
Brom today with wife, Anné above the Chain Bridge in Budapest

I was told that my middle name, "Brom," came from Abraham’s original name, Abram and I also aspired to identify with the Holy Brahmans of the Hindu tradition and yearned for sacred wisdom that would help me to put Christ’s teachings of love and forgiveness into action.

As a child I think I looked upon Jesus as a sort of superhero. Like Superman, he was not really of this world and had powers far beyond those of mortal men. The stories of His raising the dead, changing water into wine, walking on water and feeding the multitudes seemed to have placed Him above my ability to relate to Him on a personal level and it wasn’t until I began to recognize the social and religious reformer in Christ that I could see parallels in the society that I lived in.

To learn of the misunderstanding, ridicule, jealousy and fear that Jesus must have endured during his ministry and his ability to remain dedicated to his divine calling inspired me and gave me the courage necessary to deal with problems in my own life well before and after my injury.

I was blessed to decide on a career in art from an early age and Anné will tell you I rarely pass up a chance to visit art museums when we’re traveling. The religious images by artists of the past fill me with wonder and I have felt spiritually uplifted while looking at these images, especially when we’ve seen them displayed in a house of worship including the Sistine Chapel and Leonardo’s Last Supper.

Through drawing and painting I explore my appreciation for the natural world and investigate processes of growth, decay and renewal and my pictures are concrete expressions of my personal discoveries. It became an illumination to me that I could use my artistic abilities to inspire others with special needs to express themselves and develop skills that could be transformational.

It was a painful and difficult path that led me to this realization. At the time of my injury I was living far from home and feeling rather lonely. New Orleans is a culturally rich city and I began to develop a circle of creative friends. After living in the city 4 months, I had managed to secure a good job with the largest commercial sign business in town and was designing, fabricating and servicing large projects around the area.

Although I frequented the music clubs and art galleries, I still felt somewhat apart from others and took several solitary bike rides along the river levee and long walks on my own through the neighborhoods. I always had faith that God was with me and one evening I felt compelled to get on my knees, asked Jesus earnestly to come into my heart and lead me where he would. I even took a favorite drawing I had just done and burned it as an offering.

A week later, I miscalculated the water’s depth while swimming, hit my head injuring my spinal cord and instantly became paralyzed.

My condition immediately changed my life forever and put me on a road that could have been full of depression, anger and loneliness. The prayers that flooded to me from family and friends (and total strangers I later found out) sustained me in the early weeks and an extraordinary experience occurred that left no doubt in my mind of the magnitude of God’s grace.

I was in something called a circle bed. A motorized contraption that allows the patient to be turned head over heels to distribute their weight to avoid pressure sores. My head was in traction with spikes screwed into the sides of my head and I was breathing through a trache tube inserted in the front of my neck.

Fortunately for me, my mother and brother were present when the nurses switched on the machine to turn me over. As I got perpendicular the straps holding me in place became entangled and I started slipping out of the cots holding me in place. My brother tried to hold me up while the nurses reversed the machine but it was too late. My trache tube had caught on the sheet and had been torn from my neck.

In the next moment I was experiencing what I later learned was a classic near death experience. The scientific term is acute cerebral hypoxia with no oxygen getting to my brain. My entire field of view consisted of a bright tunnel of light that I seemed to be surging through at an amazing speed. An incredible sound of rushing wind filled my senses. I really wanted to let go, succumb to the light and be carried off but I soon recognized that I was moving away from reality. I realized that if I wanted to return to myself I would need to move and feel those parts of my body that I still could control.

So I started to try to blink my eyes, shrug my shoulders and turn my head. It wasn’t working at first but gradually the sound of wind started dying down and I started to hear my brother’s voice off in the distance exhorting me to “C’mon Brom C’mon.”

Then another voice, soothing and calm told me to take it easy, stop moving around and that I was going to be all right. The room came back into focus and I realized that it was a doctor’s voice and found out how he just happened to be near when I had fallen. Knowing exactly what to do he had grabbed a resuscitation bag and was forcing air into me and repositioned my breathing tube so I could breathe on my own again.

I was scared but exhilarated and tried to explain what I had just experienced but the trache tube had separated my vocal chords and they could only read my lips. When my mom said how sorry she was that I had gone through such an ordeal I assured her that it was a beautiful experience, full of a warm and loving presence. My fear of death vanished and I sensed a new appreciation for how precious life is and that stays with me constantly.

And now I felt that I must have survived for some purpose. God was not through with me and it would take a couple years of rehabilitation and a relearning of my craft to be in a position to carry out a new realization that for me, my purpose is to be in service to others whenever I can. I would see examples of this in the doctors, nurses and therapists that worked with me during my time at the UW Hospital.

My first opportunity to do this was at the dental school at UW Hospital when I was asked to speak to the students about life with paralysis. I began having regular cleanings for free from the students and this is where Anne and I would meet some years later and fall in love.

I decided to take the advice of Joseph Campbell, the author of The Power of Myth. His philosophy is to Follow your Bliss. I started to paint. Hundreds of hours were spent painting with my mouth and opportunities slowly began to appear where I didn’t know they even existed.

Brom conducting a mouth painting demonstration
Brom conducting a mouth painting demonstration.

I developed an art program at Children’s hospital and felt a tremendous sense of elation. I set up painting materials in some of the day rooms and got enormous satisfaction doing my painting alongside children who in many cases were much more disabled than I and others who had lived with their disabilities their entire lives. I witnessed profound depths of character in some of these children whether in spite of or because of the endurance of their conditions.

Eventually, I received a grant to expand the program and took art therapy extension courses. I also participated in arts festivals and began serving on non-profit boards whose programs served these special populations. Currently, I serve on the Washington State Arts Commission.

And here I might mention the grace of God that I have witnessed in others. Whether sharing in the responsibility of serving the goals of non-profits, being on the receiving end of help that people have offered me or being in solidarity with someone newly injured or affected by a loved one’s injury, I see daily the kind and caring compassion that we all know in our better hours. That I happen to live with someone who exemplifies these qualities is an even greater testament to the grace of God.

Now those with paralysis feature in all four gospels but John’s version is very different from the other four.

As I understand John’s gospel, Jesus is without his disciples and comes across a man who is hoping that a special pool’s water will cure him. We might assume that since he’s been in his condition for so long he’s learned to live with it, perhaps by collecting alms in the place where Jesus encounters him. After he’s cured and Jesus sees him again and warns him to sin no more, it’s then that he points Jesus out to the religious authorities. One of the things this says for me is that in order to not betray God’s trust we must eliminate sin from our lives.

So God really does work in mysterious ways. As I reread the gospel passages of Jesus healing those with paralysis I realize that a cure can take many forms. I have been healed of my pride and my ego in many ways and I recognize the power and unity of the Holy Spirit.

I firmly believe that we are constantly accessing the grace of God when we worship together, engaged in prayer and meditation but mostly when we do good work, show compassion and help others.

So rather than saying "There but for the Grace of God go I," maybe we should consider, "There but WITH the Grace of God go we all."


John 5:1-18 – The Healing at the Pool

1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

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Let Brom know what you think of his Bavarian adventure.


Your article was enchanting and enlightening. It is so important that people understand the variegated requirements of-every-traveler. The world belongs to all of us and must be barrier-free. Your vivid depictions allow your readers to journey with you. Many thanks and best wishes,

--- Gabriella, Raleigh, NC

Hi Gabriella,

Thank you for your kind remarks. It is important to put a face to barrier free travel and i'm glad you share my concern.

Best regards,

--- Brom

star break


Your story of your Tuscany experience made my heart sing. In March-April 2008, my husband and I rented a villa (a house actually) in a 1,000 year old hill top village, called Rodicondoli. It is owned by San Diego friends, and it was our second experience there. We mingled with the local, enjoyed their very active village life and were only 35 minutes from Siena. If you have not read it, I HIGHLY recommend one of the funniest books on Tuscany, written by a tour guide, Dario Castagno and titled, "Too Much Tuscan Sun". Each of the 6 visitors we had there read it and roared. One of the owners of our house, Casa Illuminata, is Ron Miriello, who has developed a friendship with Dari. When one can CAN communicate in Italian, things happen more quickly.It was so rewarding to know that a wheelchair did not get in the way of your enjoying this grand area of Italy. Good for you and your wife for forging ahead.

--- Grace Micetich, San Diego, CA

star break

That was incredible. I just got back from a business trip to Munich and Hamburg and can only imagine how difficult it must be to travel around Germany in a wheelchair.

Kudos to you Brom for your article ... and to you Ed, for making his story known.

--- Jocelynn – Long Beach, CA

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Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) could read and compose music, plus play the violin and piano, when he was five years old. Born into a musical family in Salzburg, Austria (then the Holy Roman Empire), he had a unique ability for imitating music, which first became evident when he recited a musical piece by simply observing his father conducting a lesson to his older sister. This led to a childhood on the road, where the young prodigy performed before many of the royal courts of Europe.

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