When you experience a sudden, unexpected change in your life, you want things to return to normal. It’s something many people are experiencing right now with Covid-19— possibly for the first time— and I get it. I’ve felt this way since 2017 when my life was instantly changed forever. What I’ve learned from it has certainly taught me a lot about who I am and what I’m made of, and I feel blessed every day since.
In July 2017, I was on leave from the Navy enjoying some time in Virginia Beach, when I was accidentally shot in the back of the head. I was put into a medically induced coma right away and when I came out of the coma about two months later, I learned that the whole left side of my body was paralyzed. I spent a full 10 months in the hospital and underwent five brain surgeries during that time — at first, just to keep me alive, and then in hopes of regaining use of my left side.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for that strong and determined side of me— the one that initially drove me to enlist in the Navy— took over. I knew I wanted to get back to the things I enjoy, and a place where I could live my life to the fullest again. So with the help of the team at the VA inpatient rehabilitation center, that’s exactly what I started to work towards. Little by little, day by day.
When I was finally discharged in May 2018, I left in a wheelchair, and although my doctors had told me that was how I would probably be getting around for the rest of my life, I already knew that I was determined to prove them wrong.
I flew home to Chicago and my dad picked me up at the airport. I told him to put the wheelchair in the trunk of the car and never take it out again. I decided that I wanted to use the cane instead, even though it was slower and a lot more tiring. Although I knew how much hard work was ahead, I had already come so far, and I was ready for the next step.
Determined To Keep Working
In January 2019, I returned to Virginia to participate in a VA Polytrauma Rehabilitation program, to help me relearn some of the most basic, but essential skills. For almost two months a team of therapists helped with me as I worked on things from getting dressed and even driving— what I knew I needed to be able to do live on my own again.
It was there that I told my therapists that my goal was to get rid of the cane and once again have the ability to walk on my own. Certainly a big statement after being told only a year and a half earlier that I would be wheelchair-bound for life. That’s when they gave me an electrical stimulation device, called the Bioness L300 Go, that allowed me to take my rehab to the next level. The device, two cuffs I wear on my thigh and just below my knee, essentially stimulated my leg and helped it move in ways that it hadn’t since 2017. At first, it was exhausting to use because I hadn’t used those muscles in my legs in a long time. But, with hard work, I began to use it more and more and began making major progress towards my goals.
Over the next couple of months, I learned how to walk better, and my gait got steadier and straighter. Before long, my cane joined the wheelchair: in the trunk of the car, where I hope to never have to take it out again — and when I set my mind to something, I usually accomplish it.
However, when the coronavirus first started getting serious back in March, I worried that my life and all of my progress would be put on hold. Everything began closing and my appointments at the hospital and with my therapists were put on pause. I — like everyone else— stayed in and wasn’t doing a lot of anything until May when I first went outside for an eye appointment and realized my walking had suffered due to my inactivity.
So I decided to start taking walks in the morning to start my day. I was really out of shape and practice so I was barely doing a thousand steps a day, according to my myBioness app and another step counter app on my phone. With the help of training mode on my Bioness and consistently taking walks every morning, I recently hit a new milestone and walked 5.5 miles in two and a half hours. It amazes me every day that this technology allows me to stay active and keep pushing my limits as I did before my accident.
My Ongoing Comeback
Before my accident, I was a long-distance runner and an active member of the Navy. I was rising in rank and headed towards the peak of my career. Fitness and a competitive drive have always been a major part of me. I just never knew that they would be so critical to regaining my independence after my accident.
Today, I am still very much focused on my recovery, continuing to do at-home exercises, and push my limits to constantly get stronger. I’m continuing to find my new normal, now with the coronavirus in the mix, but I’m determined to make my story a good one.
While I am now medically retired from the Navy, my career goals have not faded, just evolved. In the time since my accident, I have set my sights on a new challenge to conquer — real estate investment — even working at a small consulting firm called Dixon Lee Development Group, who gave me a chance to prove myself ready for the workforce again. Even when the spread of Covid-19 threatened to slow me down, I have found new ways to keep pushing towards my dreams, including creating my LLC, becoming a real estate transaction coordinator, even applying to Virginia Union University, where I’ll begin studying Political Science starting this fall.
Despite the challenges that quarantine has brought, I look at every day as an opportunity to continue to build my life here in Virginia. From my time spent in rehab here to ultimately finding my own place here, Virginia has become my second home.
All that I know is that none of this would have been possible without the doctors, therapists, and incredible technology that has gotten me to this point and allowed me to live the life I do. When the accident happened, I could have lost hope and most importantly, could still be in that wheelchair. Thanks to my Bioness device, I’ve got my independence back. Now, I’m able to live and work by myself instead of having to rely on other people, and I can keep setting goals for myself.
We are all struggling right now with the ongoing pandemic, but what I hope my story shows others is that perseverance and determination make all the difference. We can let a situation make or break us — choose to let it conquer us or stay positive and keep fighting. I say keep pushing, continue to set goals, continue to look to the future – put that wheelchair in the trunk. That is what I have always done and what I will always do.