I was 10 days shy of turning 26 and two weeks shy of moving to Taiwan with the love of my life. But you know what they say about making plans....
I was hit by a boat propeller off the coast of Miami, Florida, where I am from. The accident left me nearly lifeless, with half of my blood being lost immediately. Looking at my leg, I could envision the way the propeller traveled up my body, severing my Achilles Tendon, almost cutting my leg in half just above the knee. There were deep lacerations up my thigh, around to my hamstring and cutting out a large portion of my Vastus Lateralis. My Glute was hanging on by a tendon. The blade severed and removed a portion of my Sciatic nerve. It started cutting into the top portion of my ribs when it the engine was finally turned off.
It was a really close call after that, with a lot of small, serendipitous moments that eventually led to me getting to the hospital just in time. The doctors said 60 more seconds in traffic and there would have been nothing for them to do. 50% blood loss and no pulse doesn't exactly feel optimistic.
Those physical wounds were bad enough, but it wasn't until I woke up in the ICU that I learned of my new reality, I was paralyzed from the knee down on my left leg. The devastation was unbearable.
It took me a few days before my mind really started to grasp the events that had taken place. Jeff says I got lost in my own mind, staring into space without seeing anything, merely surviving, but too broken to try to try. There were moments when I thought I’d never get out of that darkness. However, there were brief periods, five minutes here and there, where I would manage a smile or even a laugh. The doctors and physical therapists also took advantage of five minute increments throughout the day. My physical therapists asked for a five minute commitment to movement. Even that short amount of time was a daunting task, not just physically, but mentally. The first time I tried to walk, I immediately broke down as I felt my left foot drop to the ground, unable to control it.
About a week or so after my accident, Dr. Allan Levi of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, asked if I would consider participating in an experimental surgery. They would use my own Schwann cells to create a graft big enough to encourage the growth and connection of my Sciatic Nerve. We were taking a big chance. They had harvested part of my Sciatic Nerve the day of the accident, set on trying to grow more of it in a petri dish to support the Schwann Cells. Did I mention there was a government shut down at the exact time we needed FDA approval? If we didn't get it in time, the harvested nerve would start growing bacteria and my small window of hope would closed.
One month after the accident, I became the first person to receive a new nerve surgery for Paralimb Paralysis. I told that doctor I had always wanted to live an extraordinary life.
Two years after my accident I saw the tiniest bit of movement in my foot. It was so small I couldn't believe my eyes. I needed confirmation from everyone around me before i could believe it to be true. From that moment on I knew we had all succeeded.
Still, this surgery wasn't for me. I never expected a full recovery. This surgery was for everyone after me. If we could find movement, where movement shouldn’t have been, then it would be a new stepping stone to bigger movements and full recoveries for future victims of paralysis.
The accident feels both ages ago and just yesterday. I think about it every single day. I haven't gained any movement or feeling back in my toes, no dorsiflexion or internal rotation. My calf is atrophied and lacks the ability to really activate. But I CAN point my foot, I CAN slightly turn my foot out, and I CAN use the rest of my body to help support my movement. I have traveled, married Jeff, created memories and relationships, became a trainer, and gotten myself back to where I was before the accident.
Being in good shape helped save my life, being determined gave me back my life, and needing to start from the bottom, from literally learning how to walk again, gave me the knowledge and insight to help build a better life for YOU!
Caught on Camera: My VERY FIRST walk after my accident... and the first time I fully realized my paralysis. To this day this video brings me to both sad and happy tears.
This is a video of the very moment I saw the first movement of my foot in two years. It was so small, I truly didn't believe it. It took confirmation from Jeff, everyone in my family, and finally my doctors, for me to believe it was true. The moments following are a little progression of my recovery, with a few adventures thrown in.
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