A Conversation with Wanda – Summer 2016
As discussed with Joe Collins
Wanda Roche was the innocent victim of a tragic accident that permanently changed her life. While riding the Bicycle Tour of Colorado in June 2013, Wanda was hit from behind by an out of control cyclist and sent flying off the road. The crash was just the beginning of a whole new and permanent nightmare - living with paralysis.
Perhaps most of us can’t really comprehend the difficulty of being paralyzed. Nothing is the same- every task requires a new process. Imagine: whenever you drop something you have to stop what you’re doing, search the house for the nearest grabber tool, come back to the dropped item and, using only arm and shoulder muscles, stretch - hoping you can pick it up. Some things are entirely out of reach, and they stare at you, reminding you that you are at the mercy of a working pair of legs to help. Simple tasks like these are the ones that turn into an exhausting process when you’re paralyzed.
Several of these obstacles can be addressed with the aid of mechanical devices; electric wheel chairs, lifts, hand-controls for the van, ramps and other modifications to the house. Of course the market for mobility devices is relatively small - which means they cost a lot!
Your contributions are extremely important; they provide a means for Wanda to acquire the devices necessary to achieve some level of self-sufficiency and independence, but equally important they encourage hope and communicate the fact that the cycling community she rode with has not forgotten and continues to support her.
Joe: What has happened since the last Wanda’s Ride?
Wanda: A lot has happened in my family! Preston, my son, left mid-summer 2015 for the Air Force Academy. My oldest, Heidi, was accepted into UNC Chapel Hill Medical School and will be starting August 2016. I am very proud of her achievements. Monique, my youngest, returned home in January from living with her dad in NC. Francis no longer joins my family.
I’ve been getting ready to move forward physically. I purchased a 5’ x 7’ therapy table as my living room center piece, and have learned to balance on my hands and knees! Unfortunately, exercise has proven to have more complications... it inflames my nerve pain. I’ve tried a pain pump to help decrease nerve pain at the site, but surgical complications forced it to be removed. I may try again, though it is a daunting medical process.
Joe: What steps have you taken towards gaining your independence?
Wanda: A settlement with the rider that caused my crash was enough to pay off my first mortgage. While it didn’t give me my legs back, it provided some relief.
I set goals and develop and pursue strategies to achieve them. On a “macro-level” my condition hasn’t changed much in the last three years – I am still paralyzed, still in pain and still strapped to this chair, but I would say that my situation continues, although slowly, to improve. I struggle to grasp my physical limitations and their impact on my person, but yet have grown in coping and adapting. I believe each of us controls our own happiness- I strive to move forward, to not let this steal everything from me. It has already taken enough and I am committed to taking some of it back.
Joe: What is next on your to-do list?
Wanda: Create freedom-on-wheels. I purchased a camper trailer- this means hope for freedom. Freedom to visit family without being a burden because I can no longer get into their homes. Freedom to see the national parks like I always dreamed I would. I am trapped by my need for special handicap-accessible things, like a bathroom chair; roll in shower, and of course ramps (needed everywhere!). A local company will outfit the camper with these necessary adaptations at a cost of around $20,000. This gives me hope that there is something more than just being stuck in a chair at home
Finding help. Help to fill the space of Heidi’s departure. Heidi’s responsibilities were enormous, ranging from yard maintenance, irrigation water and cooked meals to my personal care. Her leaving gives Monique a chance to step up, and me a chance to grow. I want to try and fill those help requirements both with myself and with help from outside the family.
Joe: What is the hardest part, emotionally, about your situation?
Wanda: I need a break from the pain. With it, I struggle to work out, move around, and take on projects or chores. I’ve tried to move past it by getting the pump, only to have that fail the first try. If I could keep myself busy doing some of the things I love again, it might make being stuck in this chair bearable.
In spite of the paralysis I am still a mom. One of my biggest cries is my limited ability to be there for my children; to make a home cooked meal or take care of the house. My active, helpful parent role has been stolen. I need so much help with daily tasks. I appreciate Monique, my youngest, stepping up to assist me and the home, but I can’t allow my needs to compromise her future. I have to become more self-sufficient.
My daughter, Heidi, is my greatest help around the home; she is my legs. Her assistance has given my family everything they need to keep the home functioning. More than that, she has become my closest friend and companion. Her departure to medical school will leave a gaping hole.
Wanda was a longtime rider in our club, and became close to many of us. Her accident brutally yanked her from the joy of riding, and thus away from many of her friends. Let’s not forget Wanda simply because she is not physically climbing mountains with us; she is addressing her own formidable challenges. Wanda needs our love and support to allow her to continue on her adaptive journey.
Please consider participating in “Wanda’s Ride” this year; you’ll be making a difference. Your participation fee goes directly into the fund that enables Wanda to acquire necessary adaptive equipment and your participation in the event makes you an active part of the bigger story. You can also make a contribution to the fund directly.
Wanda: June, 2013, two days before the accident