“It’s been a big year, girls and boys. It’s been a really big year.” These are the words of Amanda Lowry as she sums up the first year following a diving accident that left her a tetraplegic. A film crew followed Amanda and her partner Gemma along with their two young daughters in the months following Amanda’s injury. This mini documentary captures the struggles, the uncertainties, and the triumphs Amanda has encountered during her first year in a wheelchair.
Watch the promo video for a quick glance into Amanda’s life:
The mini documentary begins with Amanda lying in a hospital bed at Auckland Spinal Unit in New Zealand. “I’m probably the most physical person that I know,” narrates Amanda. “And that changed in a moment when I dived off my surfboard and broke my neck.” Watch the full episode here.
Transitioning home after spinal cord injury
After spending 12 weeks in rehab, Amanda heads home to a temporary apartment while she and Gemma decide what to do about their permanent home – modify or build anew. Amanda admits she was nervous about making the transition as so much was still unknown.
“[I’ve got to] learn how to pick up stuff, and learn how to roll, and learn how to be a bit more at home in this crazy body."
Gemma shares the difficulties of being a spouse of someone with a spinal cord injury. Taking on the role of care coordinator combined with feelings of grief and guilt make for an overwhelming transition into a new life. “It’s just so different now,” shares Gemma. Questions like ‘Do I leave Amanda alone in the house?’ and ‘When do we need carers?’ are questions Gemma wouldn’t even have thought about in the past, but now are questions she has to consider daily.
Engaging in therapy
Amanda started hydrotherapy, something she’s come to enjoy very much because of the calm it brings her body. “It’s just gorgeous to feel that freedom, ” Amanda explains. “For me, my body is constant small pins and needles … it’s like white noise … it’s like constant static. So when I get in the water, it just goes silent. It’s this quietness and I love it immensely, and I want to be there all the time.”
A year into life with paralysis
Cameras catch up again with Amanda and her family one year after her injury. Amanda sits in her wheelchair at the beach and looks out at the crashing waves. She reflects on her expectations for herself at the one year mark, and admits that she thought she would be far stronger than she is at this point in her journey. “I am still doing really well,” she says. “But it’s not as well as I thought.”
A big change is underway for Amanda and her family: construction has begun on a new family home on the edge of beautiful wetlands surrounded by wheelchair accessible paths. Amanda’s and Gemma’s excitement at planning for their family’s future is evident as they explore the new home location with their children. “Let’s think about our whole life and let’s think about where we want to be,” shares Amanda referring to the decision to build a new home to accommodate her needs. “It’s quite exciting,” she says.
Finding new ways to have fun
Amanda says she had to come to an acceptance with her new body before she could truly engage with others in a similar situation. She was able to connect with other wheelchair users through a popular sport. “I got into a wheelchair and had a go at wheelchair rugby and went, ‘Aahh! This is so fun!'”Amanda enjoys the unspoken camaraderie among the athletes. And through the physical competition of the sport, Amanda is able to get that old feeling she used to have when she engaged in sports prior to her injury.
Changing in family dynamics
Back at home, Amanda and Gemma have become more settled into their new life. Gemma has taken on the more physical role in the relationship – a role that used to be Amanda’s. “[Gemma’s] having to do all the stuff about being strong. She’s having to put me into cars and fix my wheelchair.” On the flip side, Amanda has taken on a more subdued role. “I’ve softened and I have to be soft” she narrates as she loving plays with her daughters in the bed. “How do you contribute to your family when all you have is your voice and your presence?” It’s a tough question with no cut and dry answer. But Amanda’s voice and presence are strong forces in her family. Her injury means she’s home more than she used to be. “This way, it means I am in the moment,” Amanda shares. “And I’m present, and I’m available, and I’m listening.” And those are all important aspects when it comes to family dynamics.
"I feel really quite excited about where I'm heading and where I've come from."
Share Amanda’s story. Show how life can still be possible following a spinal cord injury.