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Finding My New Normal

Posted on 03/19/18 in LEAP Spotlight!

Finding My New Normal

An Interview with former LEAP Board Member Megan Hammond
By Tricia L. Kuivinen, LSW, MA, External Affairs Director, Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential (LEAP)

Because she enjoyed having new adventures, learning to ride a motorcycle had been on Megan Hammond’s bucket list for years. While she had ridden a few motorbikes in her teens, she hadn’t yet piloted a real motorcycle. Her chance finally came in 2007, when her fiancé offered her his ’89 Honda Savage and a few basic driving instructions while they were visiting his family’s property down in Holmes County, OH. Little did Megan know much that sought-after ride would change her life.

“I ended up at the bottom of a ravine with my spinal cord totally severed” said Megan. “The bike was way too big for me, and I lost control of it while trying to ride. I spent 32 days in the ICU at Akron General Hospital, and I had no function or feeling below my waist. I had experienced a t-4 spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia, or the inability to utilize my lower limbs. I also had a collapsed lung and suffered pneumonia in addition to my spine injury. The doctors told me I ‘shouldn’t still be here’, based on the severity of my accident. But for some reason I survived, and I am very grateful to be alive.”

Remarkably, Megan made a fast-paced and substantial recovery, thanks in part to her abundant “can-do” attitude. “After leaving Akron General, I entered extensive rehabilitation at Metrohealth Medical Center in Cleveland, attending therapy sessions five days per week, three times per day. The therapists there were great and made me try everything on my own. They taught me to ask for help only if I truly needed it, and to focus on what I could do, not what I couldn’t do. I was engaged at the time, and my initial goal was to walk down the aisle for my wedding. When I realized that was not going to be possible, I tried to keep my focus on what I could do, like returning to work, and living independently in my own home. I had always been stubborn” said Megan, “and that trait really came in handy during my recovery.”

Because Megan had worked as a teacher for the Wooster City Schools prior to her accident, she knew that teaching could be an accommodating career. Throughout her recovery, she envisioned returning to her classroom and students as soon as possible. “I didn’t have a lot of pain, and because my classroom was already an open, accessible space, I felt optimistic that returning to work would be possible for me.” Once again, Megan’s persistence paid off; she was back at work within four months of her accident, with minimal disruption.

Beyond learning to re-navigate her classroom and teaching duties while using a wheelchair, Megan also had to adapt to new realities in daily living and self-care. Family members helped with making her residence more accessible, while Megan created new personal routines, strategies and methods for living as independently as possible. “After I figured out my new normal, I was able to function at home and in the community without any outside assistance. I’m able to shower, drive, work, shop, cook, and can do everything else necessary to live independently. I love being on my own and setting up my own approach to daily life.”

Megan eventually left teaching to pursue a new role at Metrohealth Medical Center, working as a research assistant on a National Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems Grant. She also keeps busy by participating in numerous hobbies including adaptive paddling (kayak) and hand-cycling, activities that help her to reach new goals. “My motivation really comes from within; I’m always in a personal competition with myself, to see if I can be better than I was the day before. The more I learn and do, the more I want to do. I secretly like proving people wrong” she adds, with a big grin. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”

Megan serves as a board member of Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential (LEAP) and also publishes a blog called “Wheellife” about living with a spinal cord injury. Learn more or contact Megan online: Hammond.megl@gmail.com, www.thewheellifeblog.com, or @wheellifeblog.

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