The sweetest voice he ever heard, again

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After a successful surgery, one couple decides to give back.

Miracles occur every day, all around us. Lost in our own concerns, we tend not to notice them, as they are not often the earth-shattering events that we expect from the term “miracle.”

— Penny Gillett Silvius, from her autobiography, “Miracles in the Darndest Ways”

By 2003, Eric Silvius had not heard his wife speak in 13 years.

Multiple sclerosis had taken her voice. It had taken her ability to swallow. Her arms. Her legs. Her clear vision. It had taken the job she loved as a psychologist.

But her voice, which Penny lost around 1990, was the hardest test for the Silviuses because it affected the way they communicated as husband and wife. Eventually Penny was able to speak with the aid of an electronic, straw-like device. But that voice was difficult to understand, even for Eric.

They both missed hearing her real voice.

The Silviuses, both Navy veterans, moved from California to Lincoln in 2002 when Eric took a job as an executive with Meyer Foods. In 2003, Penny had throat surgery at the VA Medical Center in Omaha. One morning a few days later, Eric took a phone call at work. The voice on the other end was hoarse.

But he knew it instantly.

I think my voice is coming back!

“It was like Christmas when you’re a kid,” Eric said. “After that, you couldn’t call our home phone because it was always busy – I think she called up everybody she knew.”

Penny, sitting beside him in her wheelchair, smiled. And spoke.

“Many people had never heard my voice before.”

The Nebraska doctors gave them a gift, they say – a miracle in the darndest way. Another surgery restored her ability to swallow. She could eat ice cream again, and no one loves chocolate-covered ice cream bars more than Penny does.

Part of the reason they decided to leave much of their estate someday to the University of Nebraska was because of those skilled doctors at the Omaha VA hospital – many of whom were UNMC doctors because of a partnership between the hospitals.

The couple made that commitment to NU last year after three or four years of talking it over. They knew they wanted to keep their money local. They knew they wanted to give it to a place where, Eric said, it could get “the most bang for the buck.” They’d looked at many local charities, all with good causes, before deciding on NU.

Another reason they chose NU – even though neither is an alum – was because they had seen firsthand the need for scholarships. Penny had hired young college students as her assistants. Those young women were incurring huge college debts.

“We thought about that,” Eric said. “And we thought about how we wanted to support places in the Midwest, because we’ve got to keep our own people here, keep our own people educated and hopefully they’ll create jobs and businesses.”

The money from their estate will support the Eric and Penny Silvius Scholarship Fund. The scholarships will be need-based and will go to students on all four NU campuses.

Penny, 57, grew up in Iowa and California. Eric, 60, grew up in Kansas. She already had MS when they met. But it didn’t matter to Eric.

So what? I have hay fever.

He never let MS rule their relationship. From her autobiography:

God knew about me, my MS and what it would become. He knew I would need a strong partner by my side to help me through it. One of the biggest miracles of my life occurred March 2, 1982, when I met Eric Silvius.

They live on an acreage outside of Lincoln. They don’t think she would have gotten her voice back if they’d stayed in California.

MS took away many things, but it gave her gifts, too. A rock-solid faith. More empathy than she had before for people who struggle. And a message:

Appreciate those miracles that come in the darndest ways.

Student support is one of the top priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you’d like to help students, too, please consider giving online or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.Or, to learn about how you can create an estate gift, contact a gift planning officer.

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