Meet Vanessa: Strong, Determined, and Learning to Walk Again

July 14, 2016

Vanessa and her fiance, Joe, were on their way home from a concert when their car crashed head-on to a cow in the road. In that brief moment, their lives changed forever.

Vanessa’s doctors told her that there was a 97.4% chance she would never move her body again.

Almost eight years later, through faith, determination, and the aid of ongoing rehabilitative exercise, Vanessa is not only moving again, she’s walking.

Since Primal 7 has been a major component of Vanessa’s ongoing recovery, we’ve been fortunate to be able to follow her journey through the years. Recently we caught up with her to see how everything’s going. The epitome of strength and determination, Vanessa’s continued story is nothing short of a miraculous inspiration.

Given all that you’ve been through, where do you find your motivation to keep moving?

My motivation comes from my faith in God, my fiancé Joe, my family, friends and my past achievements. I know through hard work, faith and determination there is nothing we can't do as a team. I am motivated by those around me who may not have the opportunity I have had for recovery. They want to walk and be functional as well but may not have the same support. I want to recover for them and also share the things that have helped me be successful so that one day they too will recover and walk again.

What would you say to those folks feeling discouraged about their own movement capabilities?

Think about the positive things in your life. Do not dwell on the negative. Set realistic goals for yourself but don't sell yourself short. Make sure you set high standards for yourself because if you don't believe in yourself no one else has a reason to believe in you either. For those who also have impaired movement, be creative and persistent. The longer you dwell on the negative, the harder it will be to become active again.

Primal 7 has given us endless possibilities to work out, even from a wheelchair. For those without impaired mobility, quit wasting time. Get moving and stay healthy. You truly never know what is in store for your future. Believe me when I say it will be easier to recover from injury or illness if you have maintained your body. There is no excuse for every single person to not get some type of exercise.

That’s really great advice. Have you found any new opportunities from this experience?

Joe and I have the awesome opportunity to become advocates for the disability community. We have traveled to Washington DC to meet with representatives regarding legislation, which affects such a large part of the population. As someone who is in a wheelchair we are also being advocates every time we leave our house and speak with the people in our community. I am a member of the Health and Fitness Project Advisory Committee under the Texas State Independent Living Council which promotes an active lifestyle for everyone. I was also selected to be a member of the Women's Health Task Force which focuses on accessibility and education for disabled women.

As a quadriplegic, I feel the biggest opportunity I have been given is a new appreciation for life. Learning how to adapt to every situation has been challenging, but even more, it has been rewarding. In the beginning, I literally had no voice and was told if I did regain the ability to speak it would be very weak. I was also told I would never have the ability to breathe, eat regular food, go to the bathroom, and move any muscles below my neck. Basically it was the worst case scenario for someone who has been paralyzed.

Almost eight years later I am proud to say that my voice is strong, both literally and figuratively. I have shown many doctors, therapists and fellow spinal cord injuries that hard work and determination do pay off. Joe and I have traveled to over a dozen states, by vehicle, train and plane, and even camped (in a tent) along the way. I would say we have completely surpassed everyone's expectations, even my own.

Wow! That’s incredible. What role has Primal 7 played in your journey?

Primal 7 was a life changer for me and Joe. We were introduced to Primal 7 at a very critical time in my recovery. I had been in a therapy program which provided intense physical therapy for two hours a day, five days a week. I was making progress but due to changes in my insurance policy I had to stop all therapy after being in the program for over a year. Needless to say it was very discouraging. Primal 7 provided us with a way to do therapy at home. Exercises that literally took three, sometimes four, people to do we are now able to do at home alone with me and Joe. Not only are we able to use Primal 7 at home, we can use it anywhere. This makes keeping up with my progress possible while also traveling across the country.

We can’t tell you how happy it makes us to be able to make things easier for you guys. At this point in your life, what would you say you’re most passionate about?

My number one passion at this point is my physical recovery. It is what Joe and I focus most of our time on. We have both made many sacrifices in the last eight years to achieve a full and complete recovery.

Another passion is advocacy. I believe we live in a very great time for someone living with a disability, however I think there is a lot to come, especially for those of us who have a spinal cord injury.

I love to travel and push the limits. I am also passionate about having fun. Life isn't worth living if you are constantly stressed and unhappy. We are constantly testing new boundaries. I absolutely love live music and have even been carried upstairs with my wheelchair to enjoy a concert. While I think accessibility is important, you won't find me missing out on anything if at all possible.

How about goals for the future? Do you have any long- or short-term goals in mind?

I would like to radically change our healthcare and insurance system. I became a quadriplegic at the age of 25, but I have been Type 1 Diabetic since the age of 2. To say I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of insurance is an understatement.

My immediate goal is to wake up tomorrow and face life head on, no matter what obstacles lie in my path. My long-term goals are to walk down the aisle on our wedding day, say 'I do' and start the family we have both wanted for so long. My dream is to drive to the grocery store, come home and cook dinner for my family.

I would also like to help rehabilitation centers be effective and efficient.

What about your journey so far have you found most surprising?

I am surprised by how a situation that was completely devastating is actually a blessing in disguise. I would never have had the opportunity to call some of the best people in the world my friends had I not gone through this.

I am also surprised by the attitude of many who feel sorry for my situation. Sympathy is one thing, pity is another. Some days I feel like I accomplish more as someone who is disabled than a lot of able-bodied people. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff because life is so much better when you stay positive.

On those days that feel less than positive, how do you turn things around?

One thing I like to do is remind myself how far I have come. My family videoed a lot of my therapy from the beginning. It helps to look back at the days I was dependent on a ventilator to breathe and was celebrating trace movement in my muscles that weren't even visible. Now my personal record of independent walking is 20 minutes.

That’s so amazing! What are some of the things you’ve learned from this experience?

Life is precious. I have learned that you cannot take anything for granted. Things that used to be done easily now take a great deal of effort. I remember one of the last activities I did the day I was paralyzed was rake the leaves in our yard. A lot of people hate doing yard work and even pay a lot of money for someone else to do it for them. I would give anything to be able to do that again.

I have learned I am a lot more resilient than I thought. I have also learned the things that used to be important to me were merely luxuries that really held no meaning. I would rather spend my time and effort on great experiences than having a lot of "stuff".

Finally, if you could send one message to the whole world, what would it be?

Be serious about life but don't take life so seriously that you forget to actually enjoy living. Life can be rough but at the end of the toughest days there is always something to be thankful for.

To see Vanessa in action, check out part 2 of her story here



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