By Alyce Collins
THIS WOMAN woke up from a nap in the backseat of her friend’s car to find herself upside down and paralysed from the chest down after a horrific CAR ACCIDENT left her unable to EAT or DRINK and relying on people to SPOON FEED her.
Disability support advocate, Tammy Le (28) from California, USA, was asleep in the backseat of her friend’s car when another driver cut them off and caused Tammy’s driver to swerve. In trying to avoid the car in front, the car Tammy was in went straight into a concrete lane divider.
When Tammy awoke, the car had flipped over, and the windows were shattered all around her. Paramedics rescued her and her friends from the wreckage and transported them to the nearest hospital.
Despite having little recollection of the events of the crash in April 2008, she remembers waking up in the hospital and overhearing the doctors say the word ‘paralysed’, to her disbelief. At the time, she assumed it was all a bad dream, so she forced herself to go back to sleep, however, when she woke up the next time, she realised it was indeed true.
The crash had shattered Tammy’s C4/C5 vertebrae, requiring emergency surgery to reconstruct her cervical spine with rods being inserted. Tammy spent three months in hospital as she came to terms with her new life as a quadriplegic.
Tammy is paralysed from the chest down, but the magnitude of the situation only became clear when nurses told her that she couldn’t eat or drink independently after an emergency tracheostomy. The shock of something so simple being taken away from Tammy was incomprehensible.
Tammy went from feeling utterly defeated to now accepting her new way of life and cherishing being able to feed herself, as she admits that not being able to do anything for herself felt inhumane.
“I was just the average 17-year-old girl still in school, working two jobs,” said Tammy.
“I worked at a skating rink during the week, and at my mum’s nail salons on Sundays. On April 4, 2008, I was asleep in the backseat of my friend’s car when someone cut him up and he swerved to avoid colliding.
“In trying to avoid crashing with another car, we hit a concrete post designed to separate the lanes.
“Aside from hearing a lot of yelling in my deep sleep, I don’t remember much. I woke up upside down, with the car on top of my head and all the windows around me were shattered.
“I had to go straight through surgery to have my cervical spine reconstructed with rods placed in it because I had shattered my vertebrae.
“At first, I wondered why it felt so good to be paralysed, but then I realised they had induced me with a lot of morphine. The daunting moment when I realised the magnitude of my situation was when they told me I was unable to drink water or eat anything. I now have a deeper gratitude for food and I never thought that it would be a luxury to feed myself.
“It felt inhumane on top of not being able to move any of my body parts. I kept asking for morphine to sleep away my reality because it was hard to come to terms with. I was a wreck and I felt so defeated.
“I was in hospital, but I was slowly weaned off the ventilator which was surgically attached to my throat to pump air and breathe for me. Once I was weaned off the machine, I had to learn how to eat by myself again before I could be discharged. For someone who was being spoon-fed 24 hours a day, that was a luxury when I regained the ability.
“After showing a stability of weight gain, I was finally discharged three days before my eighteenth birthday.
“After that, it wasn’t only physical rehabilitation I had to face, it was emotional and mental as well. It’s still ongoing but I’ve accepted the ebb and flow of my life now, and this injury.
“After getting discharged, I was always in and out of physical therapy. I was doing core workouts, electrical stimulation as well as getting in walkers to practice walking in order to engage below my level of injury.
“I now work out at home by pushing around in my manual wheelchair and by doing physical adaptations such as resistance bands and battle ropes to do at home.”
Tammy feared that she had lost all her independence when she was told about her paralysis, however, in regaining the ability to feed herself she was encouraged to strive for more.
Tammy hopes to show that despite not being in control of what happens in life, there is always reason to remain positive and she hopes that her recovery will inspire others not to give up hope.
“It feels surreal to look back on those first few months now. There’s a lot that I could’ve done differently, but I can’t nit-pick at the past,” said Tammy.
“I have lived it and when I relay the story to others, that’s just exactly what it feels like. A story that I lived. I hope that could be a message to the world. Dream a story for the life that you want to live.
“Surrounding myself with good people, especially my family, has helped me remain positive. I also prioritise alone time in order to reflect and be present with what is happening around me.
“In the first few years following the crash, my strength and happiness were a façade because I felt like it was an obligation to look like I was okay. Now, for my own self-acceptance and sanity, I consciously breathe through every thought to wade off negative and critical ones.
“Sometimes we don’t know, nor can we control what life throws at us, but it’s important to remember that you always have a choice in how to respond and control the situation at hand. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
To see more, visit www.instagram.com/resilient.quad