By Rebecca Drew
THIS WOMAN was told that she had a THREE PER CENT chance of walking again after being hit by a car – but she proved doctors wrong by WALKING DOWN THE AISLE on her wedding day.
Clinical research associate, Chanelle Wimbish (36) who lives in College Park, Maryland, USA, was on the last day of her holiday in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her aunts, uncles and cousins in August 2009 when she was hit by a car as it sped through a carpark.
Chanelle was rushed to hospital where she was told by a doctor that she was paralysed from the chest down and had to undergo emergency surgery to repair her crushed spinal cord. Chanelle sustained a T-6 spinal cord injury and doctors told her that she had just a three per cent chance of being able to walk around her house again.
After 10 weeks in hospital Chanelle was discharged to carry on her physical therapy at home where she adjusted to her new life on wheels whilst also focussing on learning how to walk again and five months after her injury, Chanelle was able to wiggle her toes and was thrown into aggressive gait training to be able to walk.
Chanelle has lived independently since April 2010 when her dad moved out of her home after moving in with her after she was discharged from hospital. Since summer 2012, she was able to walk around her home with braces and a walker but relied on her wheelchair to get around outside. As well as focussing on her physical therapy to walk again, Chanelle got into swimming and racing in her wheelchair and has competed in many events, including trialling for the US Paralympic swimming team in 2016.
In April 2014, Chanelle met her now husband, Brennan (40) and they got engaged in February 2019 and that’s when Chanelle set herself the goal to walk down the aisle with two crutches. Incredible video footage shows the moment Chanelle walked down the aisle with just one crutch in front of her loved ones after two hours of intense therapy a week for six months prior to the wedding day.
Chanelle is an advocate for wheelchair users and shares her story on Instagram under the handle, @chanellescause.
“The day I was hit by a car was my last day of vacation with aunts, uncles, and cousins in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA. I was out with my cousins that night and walking in a parking garage when I was hit by a car driving fast,” said Chanelle.
“I don’t remember being hit per se, but remember being on top of the hood of the car and then I blacked out after hitting the ground. I then remember one of my cousins standing over me while I was laying on the ground, telling me to hold on, the ambulance was coming. I then remember hearing the ambulance approaching, then I woke up in the emergency room with my aunt by my side.
“I remember some things from that night I was in the ER, most specifically the doctor coming in to tell me the diagnosis – I was paralysed from the chest down and had a spinal cord injury (SCI) and that is why I couldn’t feel or move anything below my chest. He also stated that I would need quite a serious surgery to repair my crushed spinal cord.
“When they told me that I had just a three per cent chance of walking again, it really didn’t faze me. I knew that was an arbitrary number and being a scientist myself understood that all bodies heal and recovery is different and that my outcome after SCI couldn’t be predicted.
“Mentally, I thought, ok time to focus on physical therapy and taking it day by day in learning to get back to as close to where I was before my injury – living independently, working, traveling and swimming.
“Because of my faith, I was able to accept what happened. I prayed and read positive books and poems knowing that I couldn’t change what had happened but that I could learn to live my best life despite/with the injury.
“The turning point for me was when a friend told me just weeks after my injury that I needed to focus on getting better and the long road of rehab and recovery ahead of me and not consume myself with why me and who did this?
“I have always been an athlete and loved sports, so naturally when I was looking to go back to living as close to as I was before my injury, working out and swimming was a priority. These things were just done differently now.
“This was easy to do because of National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) that had various adaptive sports and a gym that was accessible for persons who use wheelchairs. Being able to work out and stay active has helped my mind heal and to keep me healthy living with an SCI which often comes with many other medical issues.”
Chanelle’s support network of family, friends and colleagues has played a big role in her recovery and she says the experience has taught her the power of positive thinking when things don’t quite go to plan.
She is now a peer mentor at the NRH in Washington DC where she provides encouragement to others living with a spinal cord injury.
In 2013 Chanelle learnt to drive using hand controls and she is now able to take road trips again and has driven over 80,000 miles since learning to drive again.
On November 1, 2019, Chanelle achieved her goal of walking down the aisle after two hours of physical therapy a week for six months along with her determination to keep walking at home.
“The reaction was tears and awe! All my family that was there that night with me in the hospital after my injury, were there to watch me walk down the aisle,” said Chanelle.
“My wedding day or walking down the aisle, or swimming were not even a thought when I was first paralysed – I knew I needed to focus on doing the simplest of things and figuring out how to move around in a wheelchair.
“After about six months of being paralysed, that is when I thought about swimming again and my physical therapist got me back in the pool, although a small therapy pool at the outpatient rehab centre in Washington, DC, USA, when I was discharged from the hospital in Virginia, with all sorts of flotation devices on my legs.
“To be able to swim again, is freeing. It’s one of the few things I get to do without my wheelchair and the physical identity of the woman in a wheelchair. Being in a pool with others makes you forget that you are living with this life changing injury that comes with almost daily chronic pains and discomforts.
“Walking down the aisle is by far the biggest achievement for me that I am so very proud of myself for the work I put in for those six months.
“No circumstance is as bad as you think it is, or as it seems. The mind is very powerful, so use it to transmit positivity in any situation to overcome.
“Be patient with yourself as being paralysed from the chest down and being newly diagnosed with a spinal cord injury comes with a lot of changes.
“Take your days one day at a time and set goals as to how you are going to live life fruitfully with an SCI.”
To find out more about Chanelle’s story see www.instagram.com/chanellescause