Transforming Suffering into Service
Welcome to the Disability Partnerships blog
May 4, 2016
Five years ago today, my reality changed forever.
On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, at 3 a.m., I woke up on the lawn of my home with a fire blazing around me. The last thing I remembered was going to bed the night before with my home burglar alarm activated, the smoke detector on, and my husband by my side.
I woke up again on May 4, 2011, in a hospital bed confused, disoriented and unclear about where I was and why I was there. I looked around the room and noticed my hands were strapped down to stop me from harming myself. I wanted to know, what happened? I slowly began to learn the answer to that question as days passed. My husband, Collie, and I were the victims of a natural gas explosion in our Rockville, Maryland home.
According to the official report from the Montgomery County fire and bomb squad, “The entire first floor and the roof structure had been blown off its original location and was spread out over several hundred feet in many directions. At this point it was evident to investigators that this was a large scale event so additional fire investigators were called to assist at the scene.” The explosion ripped through the house and ejected us from the second story of the home and we landed in the backyard. The blast was deafening and woke most of the neighbors. From what I was told, my body flew out of the house and hit the top of the fence in the back yard, which is probably what caused my complete T8 spinal cord injury and resulting paralysis. The debris from the explosion fell on top of me and I was stuck under several feet of rubble until we were rescued. My husband was also ejected from the home and suffered minor injuries.
The house and every single item we owned in the home were destroyed. The explosion also set off a massive series of fires in the neighborhood. It took 75 fire fighters more than 90 minutes to secure the scene. It also took several investigators an estimated 8 hours to recreate the accident and try to determine what happened.
My husband and I were both rushed to the hospital. The EMTs who arrived quickly assessed my injuries and immediately understood they were critical and life threatening and took me to the nearest trauma hospital, Washington Hospital Center.
The day of the accident doctors at Washington Hospital Center did exploratory surgery to determine the full extent of my injuries. They discovered several life-threatening injuries: Second and third degree burns to my foot, leg, and right arm; numerous fractures throughout my body, including a neck fracture, a shattered pelvis, extensive bruising and fractures of my spine; compression throughout the lumbar area; several fractured ribs; and a broken leg. I had swelling and bleeding in my brain. I also suffered a traumatic brain injury which led to several small strokes. While in the ER, I went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated.
There were many things wrong with me, but the trauma surgeons made the decision to work on the most critical issue – my pelvis. As one doctor later told me, “Your body went one way and your pelvis went the other way.” During the 9-hour surgery they replaced my pelvis with a metal fixator. I underwent several additional surgeries including a drain placement in my heart; a tracheotomy; a chest tube placement; and an IVC filter for blood clots. I lost more than 5 pints of blood and had to get numerous blood transfusions throughout the first few days. As a result of the traumatic brain injury, I endured several small strokes which left me temporarily paralyzed in my left arm and hand.
So here I am today, 5 years later, on May 4, 2016. I’ve been through 21 surgeries and 10 hospitalizations. While still medically fragile, emotionally I’m stronger, wiser, happier, and have a renewed commitment to serving others, and with a greater understanding that I am a living witness of God’s existence. It took me 5years to get to this place. Five years of hiding my story so that I could avoid publicly talking about my journey. Five years of pretending that someone else should be the advocate and voice for persons with physical disabilities.
Once I entered the world of physical disability, I truly began to realize how difficult life can be with limited mobility, I will always remember the utter fear I felt when I left the hospital after being there for almost 11 months. After attempting to reintegrate into the community, I quickly realized that in some ways the fear was justified. I experience significant emotional pain, constant feelings of helplessness and a sadness that infected my mental health. As time went on and I began to make friends who were also disabled, I realized I was not unique. We were all able to tell the same stories. The thought began to creep into my mind: If able-bodied people were more aware of these issues I believed they would be willing to help find solutions.
So, I decided to launch a non-profit organization. Today, May 4, 2016, 5 years after the accident, I have officially launched Disability Partnerships. I wanted to build an organization that would help address the barriers persons with physical disabilities face in three key areas; physical health and wellness, housing and education. I also knew that the more I focused on others the less I would consider myself. I stopped thinking about what I could not do and started thinking about what I could do. With the launch of this organization, I became committed to helping other people thrive with a physical disability.
Tell me what you think. Send me a note about the organization and any ideas you have on helping people with physical disabilities improve their quality of life in my program focus areas. It doesn’t matter if you have a physical disability or not – we can all contribute to improving the lives of those around us.
To learn more about Disability Partnerships, visit www.disabilitypartnerships.org. You can also reach us on Twitter and Facebook.
 Montgomery County Fire and Bomb Report