Life can change in an instant
On April 21, 2007, at just 18 years old as a senior in high school, I was the passenger in a tragic car accident that changed my life forever. In the accident, I broke my neck and suffered a C6 spinal cord injury. I spent the next 5 months at a rehabilitation center in Atlanta, Georgia learning to adapt to a new life in a wheelchair, and then came home to Orlando, Florida to continue my physical therapy.
Next Step: Orlando
Prior to my injury, I was very adventurous and I danced competitively for 7 years. Coming from such an active past, I found myself searching the internet for more aggressive and challenging types of therapy for spinal cord injuries. I found a recovery center called NextStep in Southern California and began making trips out west for their activity-based therapy program. Then in 2009, my mother and I founded NextStep Orlando, a 501(c)3 nonprofit paralysis recovery center, to bring access to this type of recovery program to the Southeast. Today, we are still going strong! I work part-time at the facility and train 3 days a week. We have been host to clients with an array of neurological disorders from all over the US and the world!! I love to showcase our clients' (and my own) recovery on social media and every year at our Walk-n-Roll-a-Thon Red Carpet Showcase (this year is our 13th annual event on Saturday, October 29th) You can follow us @nextstep_orlando on Instagram and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nextsteporlando
NextStep Orlando helped me to regain strength, stamina, and confidence in my body. About a year after we opened the center, I met my future husband Matthew and we started dating fairly quickly. Matt was the first guy I had met in 3 years that did not seem intimidated by my disability or overwhelmed by my needing his help with things such as getting in and out of the car, cutting my food, or even using the bathroom. He eventually transitioned into being my full-time caregiver. A passion I developed after my injury was hand cycling. In 2017, I set a goal to complete a 10k race at Disney at the end of the year and began training. I accomplished my goal and finished the race in just over an hour and a half. The best part was Matt was waiting at the finish line to propose to me! Matt & I were married in a magical beach wedding on May 11, 2019, and then we set sail on my dream honeymoon cruising around the Mediterranean. I booked accessible tours at each stop and we had the best time with truly amazing tour guides but our favorite memory was our private wine tasting atop a mountain surrounded by fields of vineyards in Tuscany!
About a year later, Matt and I started on what we are calling our “surrogacy journey”. We have chosen to combine my eggs and Matt’s sperm to create our embryos and use a gestational to carry our baby. We made this decision after meeting with a High-Risk Obstetrician. While it is possible for me, a quadriplegic, to carry and deliver my own baby, there were concerns related to secondary complications due to my spinal cord injury including hypotension (I struggle with very low blood pressure daily), and an even greater risk of contracting a UTI or getting a kidney infection (and just catheter care in general, I have a supra pubic catheter). Other concerns included a lack of appetite and inability to gain weight as well as the possibility of having to be on bed rest for an extended period of time. After this meeting with the doctor, we felt reassured in our decision. Then Covid hit and everything was put on hold. Once businesses began to reopen, I tried scheduling a consultation at a local fertility clinic which wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It took me an entire year just to find a fertility clinic that was equipped and able to treat someone with my condition. And I live in Orlando, FL, not a small town in the USA! (Just goes to show that even in 2022 people with disabilities are still being hugely overlooked). Once Matt and I had our embryos, we found a surrogacy agency and we were matched with our surrogate! After some setbacks, our first embryo was scheduled for March of this year. Matt and I were so hopeful this was the start of the next chapter of our lives but unfortunately, the transfer was unsuccessful. In April, we went on a vacation to Cabo San Lucas to celebrate my 15th life day, (the anniversary of my car accident that I’m so grateful to have survived) and to reflect on all that is important to us. We came back and decided to try again. After some more setbacks, our second transfer was scheduled for earlier this month. (August 2022) Matt and I did our best to stay hopeful that this would finally be our chance to start our family but this week we got the sad news again that the transfer was unsuccessful.
It’s heartbreaking and at times discouraging. It’s hard not to feel this injury has robbed me of so many experiences and is constantly challenging me in new ways… but one thing I’ve truly learned from my accident is to be so very grateful for everything that I do have and not to take even the smallest things in life for granted!