Here’s a typical scenario at the hospital where Dr. Tyler Sexton works.
Five-year-old Tanner has neatly combed brown hair and a yellow shirt that reads, “Hear me roar!” He has cerebral palsy (CP), requiring him to wear leg braces.
Today he’s at the hospital seeking treatment for an infection. Tanner’s Aunt Marci and his mother, Amy, drove miles to bring the boy there.
Shuffling his feet, Tanner thrusts his hands upward, crying loudly for help.
“You can hear him for sure now!” Marci jokes.
But Tanner’s discomfort is no joke.
The tan, muscular arms of Dr. Tyler Sexton sweep down and lift the pleading youth in an embrace.
A palpable peace fills the room.
Amy voices her appreciationfor Dr. Sexton, saying, “He knows what we go through.” That’s because Tyler also has CP. He understands Tanner’s crippling condition and what it takes to overcome setbacks.
Tyler’s “no suchthing as can’t” mindset has been formed through adversity and his unwavering belief that God loves him and “doesn’t make junk.” He passes on this courage and faith not only to his patients but also to the community he lives in.
Tyler Sexton’s courage and faith
Tyler’s extraordinary courage began when he entered preschool with braces on his legs and pushing a walker, proving to everyone (especially to his mom, Lisa) he could adapt and fit in with the more mobile kids. Through elementary school, he did whatever the teachers asked the class to do, defying anyone who tried to limit his progress.
In fourth grade, Tyler participated in the President’s (Fitness) Challenge to prove any doubters wrong. Finishing a mile run was a physical and spiritual accomplishment. Tyler recalls that God answered his prayers, giving him the tenacity and strength to do the “impossible,” circling the school track four times.
That same year, the towheaded, handsome youth was assigned to give a speech. Tyler titled it “Why Me?” He spoke about having CP. “I wanted my listeners to learn to accept people who were different from them,” Tyler remembers. He spoke in his classroom and at church. His classmates voted his speech best in the class, and the church congregation gave him a standing ovation.
Tyler learned his faith at home from his mom, Lisa, who taught him to face challenges head on. From grade school clear into medical school, he was bullied. “Brutally,” he recalls. He endured 16 surgeries in as many years. Defying odds, he earned his driver’s license. Told he couldn’t scuba dive, he became a dive master.
Gaining an M.D. and a family
Life after college also had challenges. Upon graduating from the University of South Florida with a stellar GPA, he was told by a medical school dean, “On paper you look amazing, but I don’t think you’ll fit here.” The other U.S. medical schools he’d applied to also denied him admission. At one point the rejections seemed overwhelming; he grabbed hold of his assistance dog, Danny, and wept for half an hour. Yet his faith in God remained. “My belief in [Jesus] and faith in His Word has blessed me all of my life,” he says.
Soon, he received a pamphlet about the University of St. Eustatius School of Medicine in the Caribbean. He applied, was accepted and six years later in June of 2011 received his medical degree, specializing n pediatrics. Tyler cleared yet another barrier, completing his residency at Mobile’s University of South Alabama. “I learned that when people say no, God says yes,” Tyler quips.
He met his wife, Laura, in medical school, and Tyler helped lead her to Christ. She now is a pediatric ICU physician at Mississippi’s only children’s hospital. They have a 5-year-old daughter, Harper Grace. The couple live modestly, logging hours outside their medical practices as they fund and operate several local ministries. Laura runs a nonprofit dog rescue and has five dogs at home, including a blind, stark-white Great Pyrenees and a majestic Great Dane.
Tyler is involved with building affordable housing and operating the community swimming pool he bought out of foreclosure. “It’s all about Jesus,” Tyler says. “Every day we live, we have a chance to impact somebody’s life for Christ.”
Tyler Sexton is a true superhero
Chief medical officer Dr. Randy Roth, medical director of inpatient physician services at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, Mississippi, recalls the process of hiring Tyler. “I’m waiting there [at a restaurant], thinking, Where’s Dr. Sexton? Then in came Tyler and his dog. Afterward, I got into my car, thinking, That’s the most impressive interview I’ve ever had. We need to hire him.” Since then, Roth, a committed believer, has seen his young chief of pediatrics applying his faith to his practice.
“I try to emulate the Great Physician, Jesus, as best I can every time I report to work as I attempt to care for people’s spirits and minds as well as their bodies,” Tyler explains. “For me, being a servant of the Great Physician means that when I see patients hurting, I hurt deep down with them. Sometimes I pray with them when they ask me to.”
Tyler’s office resembles an untidy museum, packed with superhero figurines, posters and trinkets. Kids love the superhero memorabilia and the superhero T-shirts he wears every day. With his service dog, Tyler walks hospital hallways, listening to patients’ concerns. He shares laughs with his nurse interns.
From tragedy to triumph
Even after a long day at work, Tyler Sexton doesn’t stop encouraging and helping others. On this particular evening, he dons a sports coat over his gray Batman T-shirt, readying to speak at a church. Before that, however, he’ll make a house call. (Yes, a house call.) A few miles away, inside a nondescript, one-story brick house, lies a teenage boy on a hospital bed surrounded by monitors, tubes and an array of medical supplies. His eyes gaze blankly, his head wobbling side to side.
Mom and Dad are thrilled to see Tyler. As if talking to best friends, their doctor asks and answers questions. His tone indicates, You’re important. I’ve got time for you.
The father and Tyler banter over fantasy football lineups. Time slips by. Tyler’s speaking engagement awaits.
“Thanks so much for coming,” the parents say, waving from the front door.
Shortly after 7 p.m., Tyler Sexton arrives at Lighthouse Baptist Church’s women’s group. More than 50 pack a multipurpose room. His hostess tells everyone, “It’s just incredible that Dr. Sexton’s in our area.”
For the next 40 minutes, the tireless doctor, once mocked mercilessly and then blocked from medical schools, now rocks a church gathering with his story of faith. “I stand in front of you,” he says, “as a man with cerebral palsy, not in shame, [but] because God took tragedy and turned it into triumph.”