By Alyce Collins
THIS WOMAN was given up on by doctors who told her mum to put her in a CARE HOME after a car crash left her QUADRIPLEGIC, but she has since proved everybody wrong and set up her OWN rehab centre for others like her.
Client services worker at NextStep Orlando, Amanda Perla (29) from Orlando, Florida, USA, was involved in a car accident in 2007, just weeks before she was due to move to university. Amanda was asleep in the passenger seat of the car when her friend fell asleep at the wheel and lost control of the car.
The driver was unhurt, but Amanda broke her neck and almost completely severed her spinal cord. The crash left Amanda a C6 incomplete quadriplegic, meaning she is paralysed from the chest down.
All hopes of moving to university were lost as Amanda spent the next six months in a rehabilitation hospital, learning to live in a wheelchair. Doctors told her that she would never be able to walk or live an independent life again, which was difficult for Amanda, who was always very sporty and active, to comprehend.
After six months, the facility insisted there was no more they could do for her and they warned her mother that if she couldn’t take care of her, she should put Amanda in a nursing home at the age of 18.
Amanda’s mum refused and quit her job to take care of her daughter herself. The pair researched rehab facilities to see what help there was for people with paralysis, when they came across NextStep, an intense exercise-based recovery centre, located in California.
Amanda saw first-hand how little help there is for people living with lifelong injuries, leading her to take the plunge and create her own rehab centre, NextStep Orlando. Without sufficient funds, Amanda and her mum set up the non-profit organisation through fundraising, in the hopes that people who were once given up on could be given the chance to recover.
“Almost 12 years ago, I had just turned 18 and was a month away from graduating high school when in a split second my life changed forever,” said Amanda.
“On April 21, 2007 I was a passenger in a car accident that left me paralysed from the chest down.
“I was asleep in the passenger seat when the girl driving fell asleep at the wheel. She was uninjured and able to walk away from the accident.
“I broke my neck and almost completely severed my spinal cord, so I’m now a C6 incomplete quadriplegic.
“I had planned to study at a state university but instead of attending graduation and spending the summer with my friends, excited about the future, I spent the next six months at an inpatient rehabilitation hospital learning to live life in a wheelchair.
“I was told that because I showed no sign of finger function or voluntary movement below my injury, not only would I never walk again but I would never live an independent life.
“There were so many things I couldn’t do, like sit up, brush my teeth, eat, go to the bathroom, cough, sneeze, scratch an itch. I was so focused on those things that I didn’t really think about walking straight away.
“It took a while to sink in that I couldn’t walk anymore, but I still refuse to believe I will never walk again and at the very least, I’ll die trying.
“The hospital was amazing at teaching me to adapt and to live this new life in a wheelchair. They had so many activities that helped to keep us active and showed me early on that there were ways to enjoy life from the wheelchair.
“However, because I had no voluntary movement below my level of injury, they refused to do things like put me on a treadmill or even work with my legs, something I think is still a huge problem in the rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries in hospitals today.
“After six months I felt I had gotten most of what I could out of the therapy there and I was mentally ready to go home.
“But at the same time, I was scared and ill equipped as we didn’t have the necessary care, like skilled nurses, arranged. We didn’t have transportation for my electric wheelchair nor ramps to enter my home, or roll-in showers to wash.
“I needed to get home, but we didn’t have the means. So, the staff told my mum she could just put me in a nursing home.
“She said absolutely not, and she purchased a manual wheelchair out of her pocket so I could get home and inside the house. My mum says all the time that she was just a frustrated mother wanting to do the best she could for her daughter.
“She ultimately had to leave her job to stay home and take care of me. Then she started researching other recovery options for me.
“After researching different rehabilitation facilities who would give me a chance, my mum took me to NextStep, an aggressive exercise-based recovery centre in California.
“We knew right away this was a programme I needed to be a part of permanently and it needed to be accessible to others with paralysis in the South East as well.
“So, I decided to do something about it and start NextStep Orlando, a not-for-profit paralysis recovery centre in 2009.
“Everything we have, from the state-of-the-art equipment to our lunch table, has been donated, bought with grants or through fundraising events.
“NextStep Orlando has healed me physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, in every way it could. It gave me a whole new family, a place to belong, to thrive and to help show others that there is hope for their recovery and their future.”
Amanda will celebrate a decade of NextStep Orlando later this year, shortly before she marries her fiancé, Matt, in May 2019. Through her strength and determination, Amanda has managed to progress beyond what doctors believed possible.
Amanda hopes to instil that power into others who may have been told there was no hope for them.
“It’s hard because you have such amazing breakthroughs and reach short term goals, but then there are plateaus. But no matter how long it’s been I just continue to tell myself to never give up. To me it’s worth the fight,” said Amanda.
“My sense of adventure has not changed one bit since my accident. I struggle the most with being told I can’t do something and sometimes ultimately accepting I in fact cannot.
“I’ve been lucky to have many amazing adventures since my accident, including surfing, completing a 10K through Disney World, whale sighting in Cabo and next up is indoor skydiving with others from NextStep Orlando.
“Being able to restore hope in other people for their recovery and their future after they’ve been told there is none makes it all worth it to me.
“Don’t take even the smallest things, like being able to put on your own shoes, for granted because life can change in an instant. Spinal cord injuries do not discriminate against age, race or gender, so be grateful for everything you have.”
To see more, follow Amanda’s account @mando313.