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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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A Dramatic Change of Life

Susan Peterson

Susan Peterson before her accident

By: Vicki Ross

Name: Susan Peterson
Injury: cervical spinal
Mechanism of injury: car accident
Date of injury: 11/23/2008

A life changing event
In November 2008, Susan Peterson was involved in a car accident that would dramatically change her life. The accident occurred while she was traveling down a busy Los Angeles freeway when the vehicle ahead of her slammed into a car parked on the shoulder. Unable to avoid a collision, her car crashed violently, crushing her cervical vertebrae.

The injury rendered Susan mostly paralyzed from the neck down, requiring her to be placed on a ventilator. Over the next two weeks in the hospital, Susan hallucinated that balloons tied to her bed were dead people floating above her; that someone's legs were pressing down on her chest. She, later, was transferred to Westside Medical Center's spinal unit in Los Angeles. Her spirits were good, but the rehabilitation was exhausting and difficult. During the month of December, Susan spent eight hours a day in rehabilitation.

Discovering resources
As soon as she found out her daughter was injured, Susan's mother, Mary, immediately went in search of resources and any information she could find about spinal cord injuries. She went online and discovered the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation site. There, she found a wealth of information about spinal cord injuries. This information was very helpful in increasing her understanding of Susan's condition and how to deal with it. Mary read numerous stories about other people who had suffered injuries similar to that of Susan. Many of these people were able to, somehow, triumph over their tragedy and Mary found inspiration in that. This caused her to realize that she was not alone in having to deal with the, highly stressful, situation of taking care of a family member who suffered a spinal cord injury. Mary thinks it is great that the Christopher Reeve Foundation provides this important information, along with numerous other free resources that assist people in coping and dealing with these traumatic injuries.

Simple things are missed
Susan was working as a massage therapist, a job she loved because it allowed her to attend to the well-being of others. But now Susan has an array of medical professionals tending to her. She'll be undergoing several more surgeries, yet doctors say it will be a miracle if she walks again. "I miss the simple things, like scratching my head. If I could do that, I would feel like a whole new person," says Susan, who was self-employed and does not have adequate health insurance. In the time that has passed, since her accident, Susan's nightmares have turned into vivid dreams. There she is, walking on a California beach again, eating tacos at a Mexican restaurant, dancing with friends at a nightclub. It all seems so real, those dreams, until she would realize that she needed to stop the dancing and get back to her wheelchair.

Susan Peterson

Susan with her caregiver

Holding out hope/The importance of family
Living at home with her mother, now, Susan is building a new life, one including caregivers, medication and a chin-operated wheelchair which is secured in place with a strap across her chest. Each morning her caregiver gets her out of bed, dresses her in a compression suit to keep her blood circulating and tends to her most basic needs. She returns each night to put her to bed. When Susan's caregiver is not available, in the middle of the night, Susan's mother wakes up to turn her over in bed so that she doesn't get bed sores.

A goal of Susan's is to learn how to work a voice-operated computer so that she can reclaim a little independence. The unit would control a wide range of electrical devices, such as lights, the phone, computer and TV. Other customized items she is looking to purchase include a special pressure-reducing mattress and a hydraulic-assisted standing frame that would allow her to continue with her range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. A portable ramp would enable her caregivers to bring her outside more easily.

While Susan has regained some motion in her arms, most of her body below the neck is paralyzed. She said this has done little to heal her physical and emotional injuries. However, Susan is not giving up hope of more fully recovering her movement and happiness. "I don't even mind being like this, at least if I feel good," said Susan, who used to work out at a gym six days a week. "I just want to feel good. People still think it's amazing that I'm happy half the time. I'm just grateful that my mother is still alive, healthy and able to be with me. Words cannot describe how important it is having her in my life. I don't think I could have survived this ordeal without her. My brother, Jeff, has also been a great help and has spent a lot of time visiting me. I also have a lot of wonderful friends and relatives who have been very supportive in donating their time and money to me. For that, I am very appreciative. "

Tell us your story
Telling your story is one way to let anyone touched by paralysis know that they are not alone. We've created a place where you can share your journey for your benefit, and the benefit of others. Your story matters. Share it.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Caregivers PCAs Respite (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Mindfullness (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on New Injury Top 10 Questions (PDF)

CaringRoad.comCaringRoad.com is dedicated to helping family caregivers obtain information, locate services and find support so they can make informed decisions about the care of their loved ones. An online community of family caregivers.

Caregiver.comOffers a directory of support groups for caregivers.

The Caregiver InitiativeA project of the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Company to help family caregivers provide care to their loved ones and reduce their own stress. Includes information on caregiver needs, and training materials for family caregivers.

Family Caregiver AllianceCaregiver Media Group is a leading provider of information, support and guidance for family and professional caregivers.

Family Caregiving: It's Not All Up to YouNFCA and the National Alliance for Caregiving launched a public education campaign to give information and support to caregivers.

FacingDisability.comFacing Disability is a web resource with more than 1,000 videos drawn from interviews of people with spinal cord injuries, their families, caregivers and experts. I know that this is a lot to ask, but we'd be so grateful for your help. I'm looking forward to discussing this link with you, and to answering any questions you may have.

National Family Caregiver Association (NFCA)The National Family Caregivers Association educates, supports, empowers and speaks up for the more than 65 million Americans who care for loved ones with a chronic illness or disability or the frailties of old age. NFCA reaches across the boundaries of diagnoses, relationships and life stages to help transform family caregivers' lives by removing barriers to health and well being.

National Alliance for CaregivingThe Alliance was created to conduct research, do policy analysis, develop national programs, increase public awareness of family care giving issues, work to strengthen state and local care giving coalitions, and represent the US care giving community internationally.

Red Cross Family Caregiving ResourcesInformation for caregivers.

Spinal Cord Injury CaregiversYahoo Internet Forum is a place to share information and to support other caregivers who are caring for people with SCI.

Well Spouse AssociationA national, not for profit membership organization that gives support to wives, husbands, and partners of the chronically ill and/or disabled. Through information and support groups, the organization address issues common to family caregivers: anger, guilt, fear, isolation, grief, and financial threat.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.