“When I was 20 years old, I was going to college and aspiring to be a model. I was dating my boyfriend for over a year. A month before my accident I was asked to do a casting for a well-known model agency In Dallas. I wasn’t selected to do the commercial, so I lived by something better is coming.
On September 2002, (Labor Day weekend) my boyfriend, sister, my sister’s date and I decided to go out to celebrate the holiday. My sister’s date was drinking and driving that night. On our way back home we all decided to stop at Taco Bell (Taco Bell was a block away from our place) we ate and came back to the car. My boyfriend and I didn’t put our seat belts because their apartment was a block away we thought that nothing would happen. On our way out to the service road (tollway and Frankfort) our driver was hit by someone who was exiting the tollway my driver lost control and our car (Jeep wrangler convertible) flipped over all I remember is screaming and seeing my boyfriend getting ejected from the Jeep seconds later I saw myself laying in the grass listening to my sister screaming my name looking for me. ‘Marcela! Marcela! I remember her screaming, ‘I’m here but I cannot move!’ ‘Where is Gabriel’ I remember screaming my boyfriend’s name ‘Gabriel!’ but no reply. My sister found me and said, ‘You are okay, they are coming to help you’ that night was the most awful, confusing, heartbreaking event of my life. When my boyfriend got ejected from the Jeep, I was ejected seconds later. I was wearing heels that night. My left foot got stuck under the copilot seat so when I was ejected from the car my foot was ripped off from my leg, I hit a tree and fell inside the bushes. I felt like that night I was destined to die but no, God and life gave me a second chance. When I was in the hospital a month in ICU, I found out my left leg needed to be amputated above the knee because it got infected. I also found out I will be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life because I sustained a spinal cord injury from the waist down. My boyfriend passed away the day of the accident. I lived in the hospital for almost 3 months until I got discharged.
When I found out I lost my boyfriend I was heartbroken. It’s was more painful than losing a limb or the ability to walk again. I questioned many times why me, why him. I wanted to be dead too. When I was told that I would be paralyzed for the rest of my life and losing my limb I was devastated, I cried and asked myself what I’m a going to do now I would never walk again. I won’t be able to do anything. I feel ugly for not having a limb. but something in my heart was telling me, you’ll be okay. It’s going to be okay. I was highly sedated for many days because the news was terrible, and I needed to be in good condition for all the surgeries I had to go through. When I was in the hospital It didn’t hit me because I always had the love of the nurses, friends coming over to visit me, my family, etc. Where it really hit me is at home. That’s reality. When I came back home in a chair with no limb and no boyfriend to talk to, I got into a depression that I had to see a counselor because I cried every night for almost 6 months. I was lost. No purpose. No meaning of life for me.
Adjusting to my new life wasn’t easy. I was a 20-year-old depending on others to do things for me. My life changed completely. Losing my boyfriend was the worst thing that could ever happened to me that night. 6 months I received a letter from the model agency wanted me to come back, I never replied back because my body wasn’t the same anymore. My first thought was ‘they will not take me as a I am.’ After my injury I learned how to drive with hand controls (adaptive equipment) I went to college, I made new friends and moved on.
Two years later I got married and a year later my daughter Mikaela was born. She is 12 years now. Having Mikaela was so scary and exciting news at once. First, I was told by my doctors that because of my injuries I wouldn’t be able to have a kid. Two, just being pregnant in a wheelchair really scared me I thought that if I fall from my chair or push my upper body so hard it will hurt my baby. But no, I had the most normal pregnancy. Mikaela born three days early because I sustained a bad UTI that almost killed me. Having And raising Mikaela in a wheelchair was very challenging because I was lacking from the ability to walk again but I figured out. My ex-husband worked pretty much all day, so it was me and my baby at home alone most days. When you are a mom there are no challenges, no barriers, no ‘hard stuff’ ‘no disability’ when it’s about taking care of your kid. Mikaela pushed me to be better. Now, I have a child so life goes on and it was more exciting. So, I worked so hard on building myself. Same my ex-husband. We really had a nice family. We were military (he still is) after the divorce we became really good friends and work very hard on raising Mikaela well.
Before my accident I was a very healthy young woman. I never had any health Issues. After my accident, I experienced what is like to be sick all the time. I lost my happiness, I lost my independence, I was mentally confused, I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I wished I could walk again. I wished to have my life back. The old Marcela was gone without my permission. I never asked God to change me for someone new. It just happened against my will. I lost many of my friends, I felt lonely. I wasn’t feeling beautiful anymore. I felt like I lost my life even though I was still alive. I didn’t like how I looked in a wheelchair. I gained so much weight I was depressed. Losing the ability to walk again it’s very devastating and sometimes still is. I wish I could walk again sometimes by myself with no help of my exoskeleton but it’s not possible yet so I’m working really hard on being a better human while I wait for the cure for paralysis.
I worked in big healthcare cooperation for almost 10 years. I joined Adaptive sports, I volunteered to be in the united spinal association board of directors for the TN and TX chapters. I became a peer mentor for others with SCI (spinal cord injury) I lived a normal life with the only difference I needed a wheelchair to move from one place to another.
In 2014, I was selected as one of the 1st rewalkers ambassadors in the USA for ReWalk Robotics – Rewalk is an exoskeleton device that helps people with spinal cord injuries to stand, seat, take steps and climb stairs. I became the poster girl for the company until now. I remember the first time I stood up in the device, it was amazing, I was so happy! I was told I would never ever walk again but here I am taking steps with the help of this device! Rewalk changed my life for the better. It gave me a new perspective on life.
I traveled across the country to physician conferences and expos to spread hope, awareness, and my experiences as a rewalk user. I became an advocate for the device. I traveled globally where I showed the device to high profile figures such as Argentina’s Vice-president Gabriela Michetti (who is a wheelchair user), Spain’s queen Leticia and King Felipe, Spain’s President Mariano Rajoy (at the time) Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, Michael Bloomberg and others. I am still traveling with the company and I truly enjoy seeing others with spinal cord injuries standing in the rewalk and walking again after they were told no. It’s been 16 years already and I wouldn’t change the life I have for nothing. I have accomplished everything I wanted with a disability. I’m still pushing to be better and help others. I’m traveling the world to spread awareness of wheelchair accessibility. ‘It’s so important to bring awareness of wheelchair access as more wheelchair users want to explore the world and travel overseas.’
I’m a firm advocate for inclusion in Fashion. I love fashion and I wish model agencies and brands give more opportunities to women and men with disabilities. I collaborated with a few fashion designers one of them is Hisaura NY.
My advice for everyone is pretty simple keep moving forward even if you think you cannot keep moving forward, you’ll see that in the end it worth the try.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Marcela Turnage of Texas. Follow her on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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