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story_catrionaIt was high summer 2000. I was 27 years of age, a vibrant young woman with a husband as wild as me, and 2 young children, a boy and girl aged 6 and 4.

My dreams were of love and family and having fun, holding, caressing, loving my family, with the joy and comfort of being held and loved.

But in one instant, one blinding flash and stab of pain, those dreams were shattered—at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

I had just returned with my family from a 3 week beach holiday and was going downstairs with a glass of water when, on the 3rd to last stair, I lost my footing. Like a light switch, everything from the shoulders down was instantly turned off. I lay motionless, with no feeling, and breathing with great difficulty. I knew I had broken my neck. I also knew my dreams were over.

By the grace of God my husband Todd heard me calling. I remember laughing at him in disbelief: ‘I’ve broken my neck’. He meanwhile, in the confusion of the moment, started to give me mouth to mouth resuscitation. As my ability to breathe deteriorated Todd called the ambulance.

But strangely, despite the gravity of the situation, I was feeling a deep peace and calm. My heart and faith told me that in the midst of it all I was going to be OK, and ‘all will be well’. I remember praying the ‘Our Father’, and what seemed like the Holy Spirit settled in my heart. It was the beginning of a new life — for all of us.

I gradually came to realise that the situation was more serious than I had at first imagined. As I subsequently found out, my neck broken at vertebrae C3 and C4. For 3 months I was fully ventilated with a question whether I would ever be able to breathe by myself. At best I would be in a wheelchair and as a quadriplegic totally dependent on others for the rest of my life.

But with Todd always faithfully by my side, and the children in their own way trying to cope with my inability to hug and hold them or help them with their schoolwork and play, we together gradually faced up to what life would mean for us all as a family in the future. Taking life 30 seconds at a time, facing life’s daily challenges one at a time, we climbed our own Everest -arm in arm.

As I reflected on that split second between life and death, hope and despair, freedom and paralysis, I knew also I could either blame myself, the stairs, the universe, God, my family, or embrace my situation with hope and faith, and a certain amount of optimism and joy. I wanted to live, but only as a trusting, hoping and happy woman, open as far as I could to whatever the future held out to me. I consciously made a decision that I would place my future in God’s hands.

And another hope gradually presented itself, namely that besides inspiring our own family I could be a beacon of hope and inspiration to others who might be faced with the same stark future and disability as I was facing myself.

While I could not physically hug and hold my loved ones and friends, my heart could embrace and my own struggles inspire the many who like me found themselves in one way or another at the crossroads between life and death, hope and despair, faith or self-pity. My story could offer a lifeline to many floundering in the dark waters of despair, searching for that beacon and outstretched hand of love, hope and faith.

I have learned that by the grace of faith, prayer and love which only God can give, my sorrow can be another’s joy, my pain another’s comfort and my tragedy another’s triumph. Even in the most tragic of circumstances we need not suffer alone.

I have spent 14 years in and out of loneliness, madness, depression and fear. But I can say that, for the most part, I am today smiling, hope and faith filled, with a vision that, with my family, I am walking towards God and he with outstretched arms is running towards me. Someday I will be born again and fully alive in body and soul with God, my family and loved ones, in that New World promised by Him, completely healed in body and soul.

In the meantime if there is anyone I can help to realise that same hope and dream I willingly offer my story and experience.

That is why I have also offered my services to ‘Spinal Home Help’ with the possibility of offering my experience to inspire anyone I can to embrace their life with hope and trust, knowing that real strength is within and the heart is the platform for all growth and renewal, and nothing can paralyse the heart except despair and fear of moving forward to the light of God and eternity.