“Newsmaker: Krystal Clear Example,” Ensign, Mar. 1994, 68
Hanging in President Gordon B. Hinckley’s study is a small painting of butterflies. It hangs there, explains President Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, “so that during occasional hours of struggle there will come into my mind the picture of a beautiful little girl, robbed of the use of her feet and hands, gripping the handle of a paintbrush in her teeth to create a thing of beauty” (Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 54).
Thirteen-year-old Krystal Dee Shirley knew that President Hinckley was going to mention her in his Sunday morning address during general conference in October 1993. (He had called her family to obtain permission.) She knew that President Hinckley was going to show her painting. She even knew that a photograph of her might be shown on television. What she didn’t know was the effect her story would have on thousands who heard it.
Krystal’s story actually began nine years ago when she was hit by a car. Paralyzed, without the use of legs or arms, and ventilator-dependent, the four-year-old faced months of rehabilitation and adjustment. In fact, her injuries were so severe that her parents, Kathlene and Dalby, were advised to institutionalize her.
“We were told that it would take so much time to take care of her that our other children would suffer,” Sister Shirley explains. Not so. While their lives are obviously affected, Krystal’s older sister, Nicole, and younger brother, Chad, have been solidly supportive, says Sister Shirley. Both have learned the complicated medical procedures to care for their sister, and both have developed a deep compassion and concern for others.
But Krystal’s example has extended beyond her own home. Her infectious laugh and solid testimony are an example to those in the Shirleys’ ward, the Civic Center Ward in the North Las Vegas Nevada Stake, where she serves as secretary in her Beehive class. “I know the gospel is true,” Krystal says. “And I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus will always be there when I need them.”
Just a few weeks prior to general conference, Krystal received her patriarchal blessing. In it, she was promised that she would influence thousands. “When President Hinckley shared her story, the promise was fulfilled,” Sister Shirley observed.
Many who heard Krystal’s story have reached out to her. In fact, the day after general conference Sunday, Krystal started high school. Scared and nervous, she prayed for help and strength. Within minutes of arriving at the new school, several Latter-day Saint students recognized her and invited her to attend seminary. “No one could have had a better first day of school,” reported Krystal’s aide, who is with Krystal constantly to provide the medical assistance necessary for her to function.
“I love school now,” Krystal says, giggling as she talks about new friends and new challenges. “I’m familiar with the kids and the school, and I’ve got some friends.”
And among Krystal’s new friends is President Hinckley. “Thank you, Krystal, for what you have done for me,” he said in his general conference address. “I hope the telling of your story will bring a new measure of strength to others who, facing discouragement, have felt they could not go on. I hope that your example will be as a polar star to lead them in the darkness through which they stumble.”