FASHION

I Am A Queen, And The Wheelchair Is My Throne

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Virali Modi

Fashion Model to Wheelchair Model

When I was 14 years old, I visited India, my native country, for a month. After coming back I suspect that I had gotten malaria. I had all the symptoms, and because of that I could barely get out of bed. Sometime in August, I was supposed to sign a contract because I was chosen to be the brand ambassador of a leading soft drink company in the United States; but that same day, my symptoms had worsened. I had started hallucinating, I couldn’t walk properly, and I couldn’t pee anymore. My parents rushed me to the emergency room where I had a seizure that led to respiratory and cardiac arrest, which eventually led to me being declared dead for 7 minutes. The average human body can survive without oxygen to the brain for 3-5 minutes. 7 minutes was unheard of in 2006. The doctors used a defibrillator and shocked my heart back after 3 attempts, but couldn’t get my breathing back. I was on a ventilator and the next day I went into a coma for a total of 23 days.

Never Giving Up Hope

The doctors had given up hope, but my parent’s hadn’t. The doctors wanted my mom and dad to pull the plug of my ventilator, but my mom improvised and told them that my 15th birthday was coming up on the 29th of September and that she wanted to celebrate it, one last time. She got her wish. The Dean of Medicine allowed the request, but he made my parents sign a consent form which stated that if nothing ‘miraculous’ happened on my birthday, he would personally pull the plug from my ventilator, basically killing me. When it was time for my birthday, I had about 75 people surrounding my bed and at 3:05 pm, the exact time that I was born, my dad took my hand and cut the cake. As soon as he did that, I opened my eyes. Everyone was screaming, the doctors did an evaluation, and they hugged my parents saying that I had survived. After coming out of my coma and being discharged home, I tried contacting some old friends and family, but they disregarded me. They insulted me, which led to depression and self-harm. It was so bad that I had to be hospitalized. My parents and therapist really helped me out of that place.

Breaking Barriers

In 2008 I moved to Mumbai, India. I moved from the USA to Mumbai to try unconventional treatments. I’d use the train for transportation, but unfortunately, I was molested by the luggage porters while trying to board the train on three separate occasions. In 2014, I participated in the Miss Wheelchair India pageant where I won second place. I started talking about disability awareness in my community because India is a fairly inaccessible country. In 2017, I started a campaign called #MyTrainToo for accessible Indian Railways. I didn’t want anyone else to suffer the embarrassment of being molested just because of inaccessibility. Through my campaign, I’ve made 6 stations in the southern region of India wheelchair accessible. Simultaneously, I started working for Enable Travel as their Youth Ambassador. Enable Travel is India’s Premier Accessible Holiday Specialist, where we encourage the disabled to travel. It’s for the disabled, by the disabled. With Enable Travel, we started a campaign called #RampMyRestaurant to make restaurants in India accessible for those with disabilities. I’m also a motivational speaker, a model, a writer, a disability rights activist, and an aspiring model. I want to break the barriers by entering mainstream media because I believe normalcy is subjective. I believe we’re all normal and we’re all disabled in some way, we just fail to acknowledge it.

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