Steve Fielding

Moving beyond pain with faith, family

May 29, 2008

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By Stuart Colcleugh

If Steve Fielding had listened to his doctors he wouldn’t be graduating from SFU this June with a master’s degree in history and an armful of scholastic awards, and he wouldn’t be headed to UVic on an $80,000 doctoral fellowship next fall.

The former Winnipeg resident was finishing Grade 11 in May 1997 when a seven-metre fall from an aerial zip line left him in excruciating pain with three fractured lower vertebrae. The pain subsided enough for Fielding to complete two years at Trinity Western College in Langley.

But it returned with unbearable ferocity in 2000, forcing him back to Winnipeg where he spent much of the next 2 ½ years bedridden. The pain was so intolerable he underwent two uninsured operations in the U.S. that left his parents more than $50,000 in debt.

Eventually he was well enough to complete his undergraduate degree part-time at the University of Winnipeg despite being diagnosed in 2002 with lupus, most likely triggered by the trauma of his injuries and operations.

He was accepted to the history master’s program at SFU in 2005, but because of the chronic pain and lupus-induced fatigue, the doctors told him to forget it. It was just too much, they said.

But he pressed on anyway and successfully defended his master’s dissertation last fall. "He wrote an excellent thesis comparing identity formation in Italian-Canadian communities in Trail and Vancouver, B.C. during the latter half of the 20th century," says his advisor, assistant professor Andrea Geiger.

But beyond his scholarship, says Geiger, "I was repeatedly impressed by Steve’s refusal to let his illness interfere with his studies, and with his grace and courage in the face of what was obviously sometimes quite significant pain."

Fielding, who plans to become a history professor, credits God, his wife Larissa and his parents with helping him get this far. "Living with constant pain has forced me to re-evaluate my goals, values and pursuits," he says. "It has taught me that with faith, family and friendship, it’s possible to achieve what others deem impossible."

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