By Candice Graham
A car accident in 2002 left Carolyn paralyzed from the waist down. While many may have seen this tragedy as the end of a journey, Carolyn dug deep to find the motivation needed to persevere. Adjusting to life as a paraplegic, she started rehab at Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation five days a week, where she learned how to live life in a completely new way.
“Most of the physical therapy revolved around helping me adjust to life in a wheelchair – learning how to sit up and how to maneuver,” she says. “I had to learn how to care for myself and live my life differently than I had for the first 50 years.” Determined to adjust to her new circumstances as fully as possible, Carolyn was adamant about returning to an independent lifestyle. “I had a lot of life to live and I wanted to continue to be independent,” she explains.
While doctors, therapists, nurses, and volunteers played an impactful role in helping her transition, one visitor made an especially lasting impression and helped inspire the work she does today. “While I was still in the hospital one of the Siskin Hospital employees who is quadriplegic came to visit me,” she says. “I remember how much it meant to me to see someone who had gone through some of the things I was going through, and to see them on the other side. I thought, ‘Someday I want to be able to do that for other people.’”
After she’d completed physical therapy, Carolyn continued on her path to independence by working at Siskin Hospital’s fitness center several days each week. With the help of supportive personal trainers, doctors, and volunteers, she learned how to do everything from breaking down her wheelchair and transferring to a car to doing pullups and chin-ups from her chair.
Then Carolyn received an invitation to participate in a pilot study led by Dr. Zibin Guo from the UTC School of Physical Therapy. The study was structured according to the needs of those with ambulatory difficulty, and focused on the four moves of seated Tai Chi. Known as “meditation in motion,” Tai Chi helps individuals develop core strength and balance to prevent falls.
Becoming active in Tai Chi turned out to be the perfect way for Carolyn to support others, sharing with them her strength and perseverance. Today, Carolyn has become certified as a Tai Chi instructor. While she’s only a few months into teaching, she feels she’s found her purpose. “I remember what it was like thinking ‘Am I ever going to be able to have a full life like I had before?’” she explains. “I want to be able to give back because I think so much has been given to me.”
Apart from spreading her knowledge as a Tai Chi instructor, Carolyn often lends an empathetic ear to current Siskin Hospital patients, many of whom are wheelchair bound. “I know that everyone has dark days. I always say to folks ‘This is a journey, and it’s not always an easy one, but you can get through it,’” she says. “You have two choices, whether you’re ambulatory or in a chair – you can get busy living or get busy dying. God gave me a second chance and I’m so thankful for all the opportunities that have come my way. I just want to be able to see those opportunities come to other people.”