There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my partner | Elena Pauly

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on April 10, 2019 # Caregiving, Relationships

Hey guys and gals!

My name is Elena Pauly, I am 31 years old and I am the co-founder of WAGS of SCI, Wives and Girlfriends of Spinal Cord Injury. This is my VERY- FIRST blog post and in celebration of this, I would love to introduce myself to all of you.

Here’s a tidbit of a biography on the life of Elena Pauly. I was born in Siberia, Russia and had lived there for the first eight years of my life. I was adopted by a single female parent who has always taught me to follow my heart and that ANYTHING is possible.

When I was in grade four, my mum was suddenly and very unexpectedly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She has been a true soldier and a fighter through multiple brain surgeries as well as a spinal surgery. Even though this may seem like an appropriate time to throw in a positive punch line, it has been anything but that. There is no justice in suffering. If anything, Parkinson’s disease has taught me that life isn’t fair, and it can be completely uncontrollable.

Fast forward to WHY and HOW I co-founded this group…

I started dating my Italian Stallion, Daniel Duffy, in September of 2012. Holy smokes, time flies! After dating for a couple years, we decided to move in together into his townhouse in picturesque, Chilliwack, British Colombia. In all honesty, he swooned me on our first date by opening the passenger car door for me when he picked me up. I admired Dan for his work ethic and strong family values. He took pride in being a homeowner at just 21 and had literally only missed ONE day of work in over 12 years in his trade, as a Stone Mason.

We had often discussed and fantasied about planning an out of country vacation. After all, it seemed that all of our friends were either getting married, having babies or traveling the world. But, realistically we could never afford the luxury, especially with a mortgage. In December of 2015, after a long and exhausting day of work, I awake Dan up to tell him that I had a trip planned for us to spend New Years abroad. Having traveled a little bit, I jumped at the opportunity to book a vacation in the most remote part of Cuba; Cayo Santa Maria. It seemed remote, tropical and was removed from everyone else by a 100 km, dirt road…a man-made cross way. “To the jungle we go!” I thought.

We had a magical and beautiful vacation. We fell very deeply in love and as we rang in the New Year, promising that when we returned home we would begin to create a life together. The day before we were scheduled to return back home, while we were all dancing to the sundown around the pool, Dan dove into the shallow end of the pool and sustained a high-grade, spinal cord injury. Coincidentally, I was in the restroom the moment he jumped into the pool, sustaining his injury and began to drown. When I came out, I noticed a group of people gathered around the pool, and would have never in my wildest dreams thought it was going to be my Dan.

To say that our entire world was flipped upside down would be an understatement.

I quickly jumped into the role of caregiver at the moment of Dan’s accident. Truth is, I don’t think I ever really thought about doing it any other way. You know that fight or flight conversation we all have? Well, for me, it was fight or fight…

I immediately screamed for paramedics, in my very broken Spanish… that I learned in University. I remember jumping into the pool and running my nails up and down Dan’s arms and legs asking him if he could feel them… he could. Then when I asked him to move them... that’s when we both knew we were in trouble.

After I ran back to our room, grabbed all of our paperwork, grabbed my travel pillow and blanket for Dan, we were on a long journey to the closest hospital in Santa Clara, a 3-hour car ride. He did not have a neck brace. His lips began to dry up as he lay on his back, flopping back and forth through the 100 km COSWAY ride, down a dirt road. I remember taking an IV tube and cutting it, placing one end into a Styrofoam cup full of water and the other in his mouth. I immediately called our travel insurance company and the Embassy. In seven days, my phone bill was over $6,000. In retrospect, I’m quite sure I lived on that phone for seven, very long days. After contacting both our families, Dan gave consent to all Cuban medical staff that I was his power of attorney and would be making all decisions on his behalf. We waited for the next available operating time and a couple later, he had the C4-C6 vertebrae fused together in order to stabilize him before the Canadian medical team could come get us and the Cuban hospital would allow us to depart.

I took on the caregiver right from the get-go. I administered his medications, while all the nurses and doctors slept through the night in the hospital. I gave him his enema’s, cooled him off and heated him up, I fed him, I bathe him, I slept beside him in a chair for a week. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my boyfriend, and now, three years later…here we are. I began this group with someone I cherish with my entire soul and heart, Brooke Page. Without her wise words, unconditional support and listening ear, I don’t know if three years with SCI would look like this. There are many, many challenging days but having Brooke has been the greatest gift through this entire experience. I truly don’t know where I would be without her. So, thank you for being a true rock and safe space.

My name is Elena Pauly, and I am the Co-Founder of Wives and Girlfriends of Spinal Cord Injury. (WAGS of SCI). You can connect with me on the Reeve Foundation’s online forum, Reeve Connect.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.