Life After SCI for a Single Mother

By Margarita Elizondo

Life After SCI

On June 22, 2006, I was a 32 year old single mother of three and seven months pregnant, when a man broke into my home, shot me in the neck, left me paralyzed from my breast line down, and took the life of my unborn child. Despite the very horrific nature of my SCI (Spinal Injury Cord) and losing my mobility, I celebrate life every year. This year I am celebrating ten years of what I call my, “Wheeling Birthday”.

When I laid in ICU hooked up to life support, sustained by IV’s, blood transfusions, a very heavy piece of metal bolted to my head (halo), I was told I was facing the possibility of being dependent on a breathing machine, being paralyzed from my neck line down, and never speaking again; all I could think about was, “How am I going to be a mother to my kids?” Grounded in my faith I began praying and fighting to gain back as much movement and independence as possible because I knew my children; 13, 8, and 6  years of age at the time, still needed me.

Medically the focus on SCI recovery is treating:

1.     Onset of Injury
2.     Inpatient rehabilitation

3.     Outpatient rehabilitation

Margarita with her halo and mother
During those three transitions the patient is inundated with information about SCI and how to “adjust” to a new way of living, most of which you forget. You re-learn the basics: how to eat, talk, shower, use the restroom, and brush your hair. What we are also introduced to is how to use our new legs, our wheelchair. We learn how to transfer in and out of it (if we can), how to physically use our new chair, for me it was a power chair, and how to understand the importance of paying attention to accessibility (curb cut outs, ramps, and wide doors). Once we have, “plateaued” in our rehabilitation process and therapists can no longer devise rehabilitation goals for insurance, rehabilitation stops, but our life with SCI does not. Some are fortunate enough to continue their rehabilitation through private paid programs, unfortunately, that was not an option for me. My focus was set on getting back to being a mom as soon as possible.

It took about two months post injury for me to regain my ability to speak again and my halo was removed after four months of inpatient rehabilitation. After being evaluated by three ears nose and throat doctors, eight long months later, I finally got my trachea removed. With family support and my mother as my caregiver, I regained full custody of my kids and got my own apartment approximately 5 months post injury. In a little less than a year it would eventually be just my kids and I, a quadriplegic mom, living independently and thriving despite all of the challenges; social and physical barriers, financial and emotional burdens, spiritual and physical brokenness, and simply trying to mourn the loss of who I use to be. 

During the recovery phase, in all of the information they fed you and in all of the “adjustment” training, they do not prepare you with how not to feel like a burden. I was an active independent woman. My mother and three children relied heavily on me. I never imagined the roles would be reversed and that I would rely on my babies to care for me. Help me with my personal care and daily basic needs. To some extent even rob them of their youth. This inner battle brought on a very dark depression and a suicide attempt.

Peer Support

There is no real “treatment” or manual to follow post outpatient rehabilitation. I relied and continue to rely highly on peer support to get me through the many transitions of SCI. Through peer support programs I learned about adaptive living and have had the opportunity to: surf, sail, ski, handcycle, dance, zumba, paint, and learn about ways to care for intimate needs such as: catheterizing, bowel programs relationships, and even sex. What I have not learned through peer support has been self taught, mostly trial and error just as I did as an able bodied person.

While there have been many struggles the past ten years, pain management, chronic UTI’s, PTSD, depression, financial stress, family drama, the loss of many friends and still waking up in the middle of the night sometimes thinking that the past ten years was just a dream,  I can honestly say I am a better person post injury. I have accomplished so much in the past ten years: Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, Producer/Host of Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, numerous awards and recognition's for my work in Ability Awareness, lead peer support and ministry groups, and  an awesome job as Director of Strategic Strategies at Axia Management.

Embrace the New You

I would not trade who I am today for who I was ten years ago for anything. Not even to walk again. I value life more now than I ever have before. On this ten year anniversary not only do I celebrate my Wheeling Birthday, I celebrate a new beginning. For the first time in twenty three years I will be living alone. My oldest daughter is now 23 years old and raising two beautiful daughters of her own, my 18 year old daughter just graduated high school and will be going off to college in August, and my 16 year old son is in boarding school called Job Corps preparing to join the Navy.

As I think about the next ten years ahead, I am a little anxious, but not afraid. I know that through God anything is possible. I look back and remember that scared 32 year old pregnant single mother of three who lost so much and was told she would never walk again. I persevered passed every adversity, fought every challenge, achieved my highest potential in every endeavor, and raised three really awesome kids despite a SCI.

I can not wait for what is next! I am working on finalizing my book, Tragedy to Thrive, expanding Wheel Talk Wheel Issues followers through a You Tube channel, and more modeling and media opportunities like the upcoming  The Raw Beauty Project LA taking place in September 2016.

Life does not end after a SCI, a new very different kind of life simply begins! It is a second chance to accomplish new goals and become a part of a new diverse community.

Note: Follow me on Wheel Talk Wheel Issues to learn more about life as a wheelchair user and get the peer support you need to get through the many transitions SCI has to offer. Get inspired by guest speakers with inspirational stories just like mine showcasing their talents and success post SCI.

About the author:

Margarita Elizondo is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, producer/host of Wheel Talk Wheel Issues, model, author, and ambassador for the Los Angeles Abilities Expo. She was paralyzed in 2006 after an intruder broke into her home. Now, a single mother of three and grandmother, she pursues a degree in Communication at Grossmont Community College, and works for Axia Management where she designed a wireless phone service for seniors and individuals with disabilities. As Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, she is a strong advocate in the disability community and volunteers for numerous nonprofits.
You can follow her:
Twitter: @Ms_Hotwheels
Instagram: @Ms_Hotwheels
Facebook: Margarita Marguet-Elizondo

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