giving back

Katie Terry-Corbridge: Paralyzed But Far From Powerless

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I remember visiting my cousin Trevor and his wife Katie in the hospital the day after they were in a horrible car accident that paralyzed Katie from the waist down, ten years ago. They were a young couple, just married two years with a toddling son, on a date. In a split second their lives changed when one of their car's tires popped as they were driving home, sending the car rolling and Katie flying. When the dust settled, she could no longer feel her legs. And when the full extent of her situation was realized later at the hospital, she realized that she wouldn't be able to feel the new baby growing within her, the pregnancy undiscovered until then and severely impacted by this injury. Katie Terry-Corbridge's life had just changed drastically.

Fast forward ten years to present day. I see Katie, Trevor, and their two kids, Carter, now 11, and Kindra, now 9, at a family gathering. It makes me so happy to chat with Katie, who is now a seasoned wheelchair athlete, mother, and family blogger, and watch as Carter and Kindra play with my kids. A month or so later, I see Katie unexpectedly in a news story about a young, healthy, beautiful woman named Tere Parra who had recently been paralyzed after falling from a tree. Katie had heard the woman's story and knew the hard road that lay ahead of her, having been down it herself. So she gathered wheelchair and medical supplies donations and thousands of dollars and took them to Tere at the hospital, along with words of support and comfort. So I called Katie, and heard more of the story behind Katie's donation and her life since the accident:

"When I went through my accident, I didn't have a physical, tangible person I could call at any time to ask about how to deal with life in a wheelchair. It would have helped shave a few years off the adjustment period. So I try to do that for others," she says. So now, when someone comes in to the hospital with a paralyzing injury, Katie usually hears about it through a friend who works there, and is able to visit and empathize with that person, show them some support, and be that mentor. Katie says that the time right after their injury is a crucial time, when they can choose to either despair or be grateful, and she strives to help them make the hard choice to be grateful and move forward.

For Tere, the woman who fell out of a tree, Katie set up a donation account, contacted a medical supply company, and asked people and organizations to help, which they did. "It wasn't just me; people from all over the country gave," she says. As often happens, when an appeal for help is made by a trusted friend, such friends become nucleation sites for good, people being attracted to those kinds of opportunities to "pay it forward." This is a pattern she has seen repeated in her life since her accident, as she was the beneficiary of a surprise retrofitting of her family's house by the Heart2Home Foundation, and then got involved in similar projects with the Foundation for other wheelchair-bound people, as well as with an online mentoring group for people with spinal chord injuries, called Backbone, and Sports Abilities, a resource that helps people with disabilities find recreational, advocacy, support, and sporting activities across the country.

How did she get from the place of awful realization that she could no longer use her legs, that her life was now set on quite a different course than the one she had expected, to the place she is today: a helper, a giver, a cyclist, a skier, a rockclimber, and a marathoner? For her, it came down to that one choice, that one moment right after her accident, which she describes in a video interview with Mormon Messages, "I remember the first time I was alone in the hospital. I had to sit and think and I was at a crossroads. I could either be the bitter, angry person or hit this challenge head-on and that's exactly what I decided to do."

Life often has a way of throwing kinks, screwdrivers, and even sinkholes in everyone's path. It can be easy to underestimate someone else's struggle to get out of them, or to avoid extending a helping hand. Life is, however, ultimately, much sweeter when we do, and our help rendered that much more effective when we can relate. Katie Terry-Corbridge is testimony of that.

How can you get involved and help those with spinal injuries?

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.

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