Roy Exum: Be Like ‘Dr. Georgia’

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Many years ago I was described as “a pathos writer.” At the time I had no idea what that was, much less what it meant. So, I went to the source and asked him what that meant. He laughed and assured me it wasn’t a negative thing. This magazine editor told me that I had a rare gift: my words can make readers happy or sad, he explained. You can bring laughter one day and tears the next. You have an ability to affect people where many writers do not. It is a gift … but you must never abuse it.

Wikipedia tells us ‘Pathos’ is a Greek word “that appeals to the emotions of the audience and elicits feelings that already reside in them.” I’ve never studied it or paid much attention, but I’ll admit I laugh out loud sometimes when I am writing a story and I will unashamedly cry when I write others. That is who I am. And, very simply, I love being a storyteller.

I love introducing my readers to other “fellow strugglers” like Chris Norton from Iowa, who otherwise they may not ever know.

There is a new documentary movie out under the title “Seven Yards.” It is the very true story about a freshman football player who made a forceful tackle in a game and suffered a broken neck. After doctors performed emergency surgery, they told 18-year-old Chris Norton he had only a three percent chance of overcoming an injury that would leave him paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life.

Yet on his fourth day in intensive care, a doctor who identified herself as Georgia – from Wyoming – came to him at 2 a.m. and said “Four Words That Would Change My Life Forever.”

Today Chris and his wife have seven children – hold that! – so you will please know that five of them are adopted. He is wildly in demand as a motivational speaker, he has made enough money to be a standout philanthropist, and his accolades are of such that if piled together with a match, it “would set a wet mule on fire.”

Read this, and you’ll grasp ‘pathos’:


How you choose to use your super-power -- the words you speak -- can decide whether you make someone else’s day, or break it.

By Chris Norton

NOTE -- Chris Norton was given a three percent chance to ever move again but has defied the odds. He is a motivational speaker, author, philanthropist, father of seven, and is featured in the documentary 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story.

Can you think of a moment when someone’s words drastically impacted your life? Maybe this moment came from a parent, a teacher, or a mentor.  Maybe it came from a doctor, a coach, or a friend. For better or worse, words can have a huge impact on the way we live our lives.

They can make or break someone’s day. They have so much power and influence, much more than we often give them credit for. How you choose to use this super-power can make a profound difference in someone else’s world. I’ve learned this firsthand.

This lesson came to me on the fourth night of my unexpected ICU stay. Four days earlier, I was just a normal, athletic, 18-year-old freshman college football player - until I made a tackle that left me paralyzed from the neck down.

After emergency surgery, I was given a mere three percent chance of ever moving below my neck. Let me clarify, not a 3 percent chance to walk but a three percent chance just to move. My life had changed forever.

Sleep was nearly impossible. It was so quiet I couldn’t hide from my thoughts and fears. Most nights, I cried myself to sleep.

At 2:00 a.m. on the fourth night, I lay wide awake on the gurney.

It wasn’t just worry that kept me up; every two hours, a doctor or a nurse entered my room to make sure my vitals were in check. Typically, their interaction with me was always routine and clinical. But on this night, a physician entered the room and did something different.

She knelt down next to my bed and said, “Chris, look me in the eyes.” Thinking back on it now, I remember she was kind of mean about it.

Her voice was direct and commanding. She sounded more like a character from an old-time Western movie than the slender woman in her 60s with short red hair and glasses who knelt beside me.

Our eyes locked and she said, “My name is Georgia. I’m from Wyoming. Do you know anyone from Wyoming?”

I told her no and wondered to myself, “Where is this going?” She continued: “Well, people from Wyoming don’t tell lies. I’m here to tell you—you will beat this. You will beat this.”

She delivered these words with so much conviction, I couldn’t help but start to cry. Up to this point, I had questioned whether all the time and effort I put into my recovery would ever pay off.

Dr. Georgia didn’t say, “You CAN beat this,” She told me, “You WILL beat this.” Every part of my being believed Dr. Georgia in that moment, and instantly my faith was restored. A day later, when I started physical therapy, I heard her words echo in my head: “Chris, you WILL beat this!”

Day by day, I grew stronger and stronger. Dr. Georgia helped me discover just how much impact one person’s words can have.

Fast forward five weeks: Though my stay in the hospital was far from over, at this point my resolve was unshakeable. I would lie in bed dreaming about one day moving my legs and walking again. I put these dreams into action by working as hard as I could in every physical and occupational therapy session.

I decided I needed to do more, so I asked my physical and occupational therapists to write down workouts for me to do outside of my scheduled therapy time. I kept reminding myself, “Your future will take care of itself when you take care of today.” A few days later, on Thanksgiving Day of all days, with my family by my side, a miracle happened.

I wiggled my left big toe.

Just one week earlier a doctor had said I would never move my legs again. But there, at that moment, I had proved him wrong. And the big left toe was just the start. Over the next several years, I slowly gained strength throughout my legs. Eventually, I was able to walk across my graduation stage. A couple of years later, I had enough strength to walk my bride, Emily, down the aisle.

Because of those four little words -- “You will beat this” -- I never gave up. And five weeks later, I was able to defy my prognosis.

Do you think Dr. Georgia has any idea of the impact her words had on me? We rarely find out if what we say makes a difference, but I’m here to tell you that it does.

When we allow ourselves the realization that our words have the power to hurt or heal, we awaken within us the ability to inspire others. Because the truth is, we all have the same power Dr. Georgia has. She chose to use that power to inspire me, and because of that, my life changed forever.

Ever since I heard those inspiring words, I’ve committed myself to being a “Dr. Georgia” to everyone I meet in life. This commitment is the reason I became a motivational speaker, it’s the reason I became an author to share my story with the world, it’s the reason I started a nonprofit, and it’s the reason I committed myself to fostering and adopting children in need.

I want to challenge you today. I challenge you to be a Dr. Georgia for others. Our words have the power to hurt or to heal, and everyone is fighting a battle whether we can see it or not.

We all know someone in our lives in need of inspiration. So, the next time you interact with them, try replacing a passive statement of “You can beat this” with an emphatic one like “You WILL beat this!”

Not only will you energize and inspire others, you’ll feel energized and inspired in your own life. We all have the power to change lives.

The only thing left to do is to use it.

* * *


In 1977, the United Nation began “International Women’s Day” as a time to celebrate all the glory and goodness that women all across the world dispense every hour of every day. As I rejoiced in a female physician we only know as “Dr. Georgia from Wyoming,” I lapsed into the warmth of remembering the lessons I learned, and will always cherish, that my mother shared with me.

Allow me to share the wisdom of 30 such women who understand far more about Chris Norton’s courage than I ever will …

* -- “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.” — Diane Mariechild

* -- “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” — Mother Teresa

* -- “If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.” — Aung San Suu Kyi

* -- “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.” — Simone De Beauvoir

* -- “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

* -- “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” — Mother Teresa

* -- “No one has ever become poor by giving.” — Anne Frank

* -- “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone.” — Audrey Hepburn

* -- “Life shrinks or expands in proportion with one’s courage.” — Anaïs Nin

* -- “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.” — J.K. Rowling

* -- “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” — Rosa Parks

* -- “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” — Malala Yousafzai

* -- “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.” — Martha Graham

* -- “The most beautiful thing you can wear is confidence.” — Blake Lively

* -- “I may not be perfect, but parts of me are pretty awesome.” — Anonymous

* -- “Do you want to meet the love of your life? Look in the mirror.” — Byron Katie

* -- “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

* -- “I think the best way to have confidence is not to allow everyone else’s insecurities to be your own.” — Jessie J

* -- “I’m stronger than I thought I was. My favorite phrase has been ‘This too shall pass.’ I now understand it really well.” — Robin Roberts

* -- “When there is no struggle, there is no strength.” — Oprah

* -- “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” — Judy Garland

* -- “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” — Amelia Earhart

* -- “I know for sure that what we dwell on is what we become.” — Oprah Winfrey

* -- “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not making decisions.” — Catherine Cook

* -- “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” — Katharine Hepburn

* -- “You learn something out of everything, and you come to realize more than ever that we’re all here for a certain space of time, and … and then it’s going to be over, and you better make this count.” — Nancy Reagan

* -- “Keep your sunny side up, keep yourself beautiful, and indulge yourself.” — Betsey Johnson

* -- “I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.” — Anne Frank

* -- “If you don’t have any shadows you’re not in the light.” — Lady Gaga

* -- “When you notice that you’re having negative thoughts about how all of this is going to pan out, you need to remind yourself that you are not a very good fortune teller.” — Donna W. Hill

* * *








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