Women achieve milestones despite spinal cord injuries - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Women achieve milestones despite spinal cord injuries

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Posted: Saturday, January 1, 2011 10:00 am | Updated: 12:57 pm, Fri Jan 21, 2011.

A baby to hold. A new chance on an outdoor love.

Renewal and hope. Achievement and drive.

Ashleigh Turner and Maegan Clark's lives are intertwined through a common physical trait. Both women suffered spinal cord injuries in the last decade.

In 2001, Ashleigh, then 15, broke her neck in a car accident with her family. She suffered what is known as a C6-7 injury. A quadriplegic, she has no feeling below her level of injury, but can move some of her fingers.

Maegan dove into a pool and broke her neck in 2009, two weeks after graduating from Gilbert's Mesquite High School. Now 19, her injury is classified as C4. She is paralyzed from the waist down, though she also has some paralysis in her hands and upper extremities.

While hospitalized, Ashleigh, a peer mentor with the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association, came to visit Maegan.

Both saw something in each other that inspired them. Ashleigh became a mentor for Maegan.

Immediately after their injuries, both admit they had little hope for what their lives would become. But today, they've each achieved milestones and set their sights on what 2011 - and the future - can hold.

Full circle

Lying in a hospital bed in 2001, Ashleigh Turner's head swam with questions: Would she go to college? Would she learn to drive?

Everything she knew before as "normal" slipped out of her hands when the car crashed.

But since then, Ashleigh's finished her associate's degree, found a job, learned to drive, found love, married and built new life.

"2011 is going to be the fresh start," the 25-year-old says. "2001 to 2010, those were my figuring things out years."

Ashleigh and her husband, Joel, met in 2006 and married in December 2009. In a few weeks, they will welcome their first child.

"We've been preparing for so long to have a life. We've been trying to get our house together, our life as a married couple together, and all the wonderful things," she says. "Now we get to live our life with our family and get to figure out the direction we want to go in."

Being pregnant is a challenge, with carrying extra weight and transferring her body to her wheelchair. But the bigger challenge, Ashleigh said, will come with her son's arrival. The couple is working on a crib that will be accessible for Ashleigh and she hopes to use a baby sling to carry her infant around.

"There are five women with spinal cord injuries who have had kids that I know. They can help me out. One has less function than I do and has three kids," she said.

Her baby is due to arrive via c-section at St. Joseph's Hospital, where she spent nine weeks after her injury.

"That's where I had my lowest point," she said of the hospital. "Now it'll be my highest point. I've come full circle."

Carpe diem attitude

High up on Maegan Clark's wall hangs her barely used snowboard, seemingly out of reach physically and mentally.

But 2011 will bring Maegan back to the snow, one of many goals that have driven this teen athlete since 2009.

Seeing what Ashleigh can do gave hope to Maegan, she said.

"What surprised me the most about Ashleigh is seeing she was a couple levels higher than me," meaning she has less body function.

"But it amazed me what she could do physically. When you're so new, you're really weak and recovering is a huge shock. But that gave me perspective on where you can be, how you can grow in a short period of time."

Maegan's positive outlook gave her the ability to mentor other new injury patients.

It's a sort of "carpe diem" attitude, Maegan says, that pushes her to excel.

"I'm not one to have a lot of expectations of things besides myself," she explains. "For 2011, I really want to excel in school. I haven't done that in a few years. ... I've always tried to lead my life by taking up opportunities as they come to me. The whole ‘carpe diem' kind of thing, seizing the moment, taking advantage of life."

Through her relentless drive, Maegan took up hand cycling and finished a 5K. From there, she tried kayaking. Her family took her to San Diego last summer where she also got on a surf board.

She obtained a basic scuba diving certificate, hopes to take up rowing and, in February, she will participate in Ski-Able, an event that puts skiing within reach for the disabled and puts Maegan back on the snow.

"You start something or get involved in one thing and a whole bunch of other opportunities come from different places."

That's a lesson Maegan tries to pass on to others she meets who share her injury.

"I would tell them their life is going to go on. And whatever they wanted to do before they can still do. It's going to be different and you're going to have to change, but it makes you a stronger person for it."

 

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