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Choosing a Positive Outlook After a Life Changing Accident

Today we have the pleasure of hearing from Jenni, a patient at PHS and the 2011 Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota. Hear how she adapted to life after breaking her neck and becoming paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident, and how she has become an advocate for people with disabilities. Jenni also blogs at The Site That Breathes

There are multiple situations people undergo that may stop them in their tracks and alter the way they think. Throughout my life I’ve experienced pain, tragedy, grief, loss of independence etc. although in other ways have gained a positive outlook on life along with a belief system that change can occur. In my own experience, my life changed in an instant that has forever impacted my future.

Learning a new normal

On November 1, 2002 at the age of 16 I was in a car accident. I broke my neck at C1 C2 and injured my spinal cord. I’m paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator to breathe. Although I do have some feeling, I don’t have any movement below the level of my injury. I require the use of a wheelchair and other devices for support.

After my accident, I spent 6 months in the hospital rehabilitating and learning how to live my life differently. It was there that I realized my life can still go on despite what happened. While I was in the hospital my mom and sister moved into a townhouse that was “listed” as accessible. That way when I came home I would have some places to go throughout it. We lived there for a year and a half and then we bought a house, remodeled it to make it more accessible for me, and that’s where I currently live with my mom.

Round-the-clock support

Due to my injury level, I have 24/7 nursing care who work 12 hour shifts from 7 AM-7 PM and 7 PM-7 AM. I also have PCAs 4 hours a day that help with my cares. I don’t think many people realize what it’s like for a quadriplegic and the daily routine that they go through. My nurses do pretty much everything for me and my schedule is about the same every day, other than the occasional appointment here and there.

Since I am completely paralyzed from the neck down, I require daily assistance to help with my every need. It may include bathing, dressing, eating; more specifically-brush my hair/teeth, scratching an itch, moving my arm a certain way, changing positions, range of motion, bowel/bladder cares etc. My life is nonstop with lots of interaction between me and the people helping with my needs. Because of this, I depend on my voice for a lot of things including directing my own cares.

As far as my daily routine, I start out by eating breakfast then getting washed up and dressed. During the week I usually have some sort of therapy like PT or massage. After that, around 10 AM, I get up into my wheelchair using a sling and my ceiling lift. My nurses intervene throughout the day with cares on me while I’m in my wheelchair like suctioning, changing positions, range of motion etc.

Around 8 PM the nurses transfer me back into bed for the night. I do more range of motion along with other cares before sitting up in bed about an hour or so later. Then I usually go on my computer until I’m ready to go to sleep which is usually around 11 PM. I like to have a routine throughout the day, not just for myself but for my nurses as well. The reason why it’s so important for me to have someone help me with all my needs is due to all the cares that’s required to keep me mobile and healthy.

Transitioning into adulthood

After my accident I needed a lot of equipment and supplies to fulfill my cares. Since I was 16 at the time I was still under the pediatrics profile. This is how I came about using services from Pediatric Home Service. They are able to provide me with most of my medical supplies in order to live my life with more independence.

Even though I’m now 31 years old, I still use them as my supplier. As I got older I was at a battle on how I was going to continue using a company that supplied me when I was changing from the pediatrics stage into adulthood. Luckily PHS is able to help continue my ordering along with checking my equipment monthly. I’m thankful for having such a reliable company.

Managing my healthcare

Although I was always involved in decisions being made, when I was younger a lot of managing my care came from my mom. While I was reaching an age where I was becoming older and more independent, it switched over to me making most of the decisions on how I wanted things done. I developed a system on which I still use in order to manage my care myself. With this includes my daily routine and how I go about doing things.

Since I have around the clock nursing, one of the biggest challenges I have are finding enough staff to cover all of the shifts. If there happens to be an open shift, it falls on my family to fill it in order for me to get proper care. Unfortunately, when multiple shifts are open back to back I’ve ended up having to go into the hospital for care coverage. It’s not the most ideal situation although it’s happened before.

One thing that people don’t realize is the amount of supplies that someone in my situation needs or requires. It can be difficult to ensure there are enough supplies on hand. Thanks to PHS and my nurses, I rarely run out of supplies. Both go above and beyond to make sure I have the supplies I need to function on a daily basis.

Another challenge is accepting change; it can be a difficult thing to do. As far as myself since becoming a vent dependent quadriplegic, I still struggle with not being able to have control of my body. This comes with having nurses along with constant interruption and lack of independence. Because this is part of how things are, my life’s goal is to try to succeed in different ways. Whether it’s taking control over something I have lost or just gaining it back through support.

Making a difference in the community

One of my greatest accomplishments is winning Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota 2011. The mission of the Ms. Wheelchair program is to provide an opportunity of achievement for women who happen to be wheelchair users to successfully advocate and educate millions of Americans living with disabilities. After winning in Minnesota, I flew to nationals in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I received 5th runner-up.

Aside from my years reign, I do some volunteer work to keep myself busy. I also like to be active in my community by doing motivational speaking at different schools/events and being an advocate for people with disabilities. I’m also involved in different organizations that help those with spinal cord injuries.

As far as other interests, I like going to the mall, playing games, painting, watching movies and spending time outside. I have a small companion dog named Brody that I take for a walk and roll. Also, I have my own blog and write for other blogs sharing my story hoping to inspire others.

Choosing to thrive

Either from people in similar situations or from people around, I’ve learned that you can’t always manage what happens in life. Despite it you can decide what you do with your life afterwards. Incredible change occurs when you decide to take control of the power you do have instead of craving control over what you don’t. In past experiences, just going through the motions isn’t always enough. Sometimes it takes a little strength from within and through faith to boost up your life.

Learning to live differently from how I used to has been a challenge, but not impossible. Throughout the years I’ve realized that it’s not just about being able to survive, it’s about thriving as well. I know it’s hard for many people going through tough situations to believe that despite the struggles that go on there are positives as well. I manage to stay positive and never give up. In the future, I look forward to taking new strides while possibly gaining more independence and freedom.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

Originally published: July 3, 2018