Finding Meaning and Joy After Spinal Cord Injury


Aug. 26, 2022 – Preethi Srinivasan was an 18-year-old with a vivid future in sports activities and lecturers. A state-level medalist in swimming, she was additionally a proficient cricket participant and dreamed of representing her native India in cricket.

Her tutorial achievements have been equally stellar, and he or she was enrolled in a 5-year MBA course in Chennai, India. “My life was excellent, and the probabilities appeared infinite,” she says in an interview.

Srinivasan was on a university journey with pals on the ocean. She was standing in thigh-deep water when the sand underneath her ft gave manner and he or she stumbled. As a seasoned swimmer, when she realized she was falling, she dived into the water.

“As quickly as my face went underwater, I felt a shock-like sensation journey by way of my physique and instantaneously, I couldn’t transfer something” Srinivasan recounts. “I attempted to face, however nothing occurred.” From that second, she was paralyzed beneath the neck.

“My life as I knew it was over, however a complete new life was starting,” she says. “I simply didn’t know but what type that may take.”

The Serenity to Settle for

Yearly, there are an estimated 17,730 new spinal cord injuries within the U.S. and 250,000 to 500,000 worldwide. The U.S. Senate has designated September as Nationwide Spinal Twine Damage Consciousness Month.

Individuals who have a spinal twine harm confront not solely sensible, medical, and monetary challenges, but in addition the sensation that their lives have been completely upended, in accordance with Rex Marco, MD, chief medical ambassador for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Basis. This will result in a way of despair and lack of that means.

Marco himself had a spinal twine harm that paralyzed him when he was in his 50s. He had been a nationally famend spinal surgeon and musculoskeletal oncologist in addition to an lively snowboarder, mountain biker, and yoga practitioner.

All of that modified when the tire of his mountain bike stalled in a dip alongside a path, catapulting him headfirst over the handlebars. He heard a crack however felt no ache. He knew that if the cracking sound got here from his neck, he may very well be paralyzed.

“I had been doing respiration workout routines to search out calm for a number of years. In that second, I used them to calm myself,” he says.

When a buddy touched his leg and hand and he couldn’t really feel the contact, he realized he had damaged his neck.

As he lay there, he considered the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to simply accept the issues I can not change.” He requested for the serenity to simply accept no matter bodily limits lay forward.

“I knew there was lower than 5% likelihood I’d ever stroll once more. I could by no means function once more, and I could by no means maintain my unborn baby.” Marco additionally knew he needed to get to a hospital as quickly as potential, so he helped coordinate his rescue and arrived on the hospital after which the working room inside lower than 3 hours, which he describes as “miraculous.”

He considers himself lucky that he by no means despaired as a result of he had already been utilizing practices that deepened his sense of that means and he drew upon them after his accident.

“I knew it was necessary for me to do my finest to reside within the current second and never dwell on the previous or fear concerning the future; simply attempt to odor and style and pay attention and really feel. I did that all through the day and tried to be as current as potential.”

‘Why Not Me?’

After her accident, Srinivasan at first did fall into despair. “I didn’t cope properly with what had occurred and tried to flee this new actuality any manner that I may,” she says.

She felt an acute sense of loss. “For the primary 18 years of my life, I had effortlessly excelled in each space, and the long run gave the impression to be brimming with infinite potential,” she says. “Then, in only a cut up second, it was throughout, and I discovered myself having to return to phrases with life in a wheelchair.”

What was particularly painful was how others handled her. “I had been regarded as much as all my life, seen as a task mannequin and hero, and now immediately folks regarded down on me as if I ceased to exist. I couldn’t bear it. I felt invisible and invalidated and tried to close myself away for two years.”

She questioned what she may have achieved to deserve such a destiny. “I used to be shattered. Who was I? I didn’t know, and I didn’t wish to know. I simply wished to die.”

Her mother and father’ unconditional love and knowledge slowly introduced her out and gave her a deeper understanding of life. Srinivasan’s father suggested her to not ask, “Why me? Why did this occur to me?” As an alternative, he suggested asking, “Why not me?”

He inspired Srinivasan to make use of her harm as a possibility. “Your physique goes,” he instructed her. “Everybody’s physique goes – if not right this moment, then 10 years from right this moment, and if not 10 years, then 50 years. Look inside and discover that inside you which might by no means be taken away, which might by no means go.”

It was the start of a profound interior journey. Srinivasan started expressing herself by way of mouth work. “Slowly, I began feeling enthusiastic about life once more,” she says. “My mother and father gave me a wonderful non secular lineage, and thru grace, I began therapeutic from inside.”

‘There Is a Plan for Me’

A number of weeks earlier than the accident, Marco had began a follow of starting the day with itemizing three issues he’s grateful for, three issues he’s enthusiastic about, a day by day focus, a day by day affirmation, and a day by day train plan. He positioned this follow into his new actuality.

“I felt grateful for all times, grateful for my breath, and grateful for my restoration program,” he says. “I felt excited to see my household, my pals, and my caregivers. My day by day affirmation was, ‘I’m sufficient,’ and my day by day train plan was to get away from bed and into the chair.” At evening, when he couldn’t sleep properly, the nurses performed a guided meditation for him.

“These practices gave me that means and function, and I knew there was and there’s a plan for me, though I wasn’t positive what the plan was,” he says.

Finally, Marco grew to become concerned with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Basis. “Christopher Reeve was a childhood hero of mine, and I watched him play Superman,” Marco says. “I bear in mind the day he received injured, and I bear in mind his look on the Oscars when he was on a ventilator, which was so inspirational to me.”

Marco remembered that speech when he was within the intensive care unit. “I knew I wished to do one thing that he did, which was attempt to discover a remedy and lift cash for spinal twine harm analysis, which is a part of my function within the basis, in addition to rising psychological well being consciousness, and introducing extra folks to mindfulness and mindfulness-based meditation.”

Founding Soulfree

When Srinivasan’s father was alive, he “took care of every little thing,” permitting her and her mom to be in a “bubble of security, insulated and remoted.” However after his sudden loss of life of cardiac arrest in 2007, there was no supply of economic assist. Some years later, her mom had cardiac bypass surgical procedure.

“We started to marvel what would occur to me if my mom may now not deal with me, and we started to search for long-term care services in India that have been outfitted to look after an individual in my situation,” Srinivasan says.

She was “shocked” to search out out that, all through all of India, there wasn’t a single long-term care facility the place an individual with a spinal twine harm (SCI) may reside with dignity. “So if the mother and father or household of a lady in my situation is unable to look after her, there’s nowhere to go,” she says.

She began to listen to horrifying tales “Members of the family of ladies with SCI usually consider a disabled daughter as shameful and refuse to feed or look after her. Two households even offered their daughters with poison and inspired them to kill themselves.”

The dearth of assist for folks with spinal twine accidents led Srinivasan to discovered Soulfree, a corporation devoted to creating long-term care facilities round India which can be outfitted to look after these with extreme disabilities completely and guarantee they are going to be educated for jobs and monetary safety, she says.

Along with her work with Soulfree, Srinivasan is a motivational speaker, holds a grasp’s diploma in psychology, and is and a senior analysis fellow pursuing her PhD on the Indian Institute of Know-how in Madras.

“I do know I’m being stored alive on this earth for some better function,” she says. “I’m content material in being totally alive on this second and attempting to unfold love, gentle, and laughter on this world.”

Useful Assets

Research shows that individuals who have supportive household, pals, and neighborhood and a non secular connection have a neater time coping with the challenges of discovering new identification, that means, and function after a spinal twine harm.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Basis’s National Paralysis Resource Center provides free sources about residing with paralysis, together with a weblog through which folks with spinal twine accidents describe how they discovered that means after their accident. Getting psychotherapy or changing into concerned with a assist group (in-person or on-line) or peer counseling, comparable to by way of the Basis’s Peer and Family Support Program, may also assist.

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