It all started when a boy, Drew, and a girl, Emily, each took a summer job at the same place in Texas. Instantly attracted and enjoying time together, little did they know what they were about to face.
A car accident right after Emily’s 16th birthday left her with a crushed her C5 vertebra. She worked in rehab, gyms and home therapies to maintain her health and muscle tone and got a GED to finish her high school diploma. She went onto to college to study speech pathology, something she wanted to do even before her accident. She then plans to transfer to the University of Texas, where there is a program that pays for people with spinal cord injuries with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Her wheelchair had become a part of her life, but didn’t keep her from getting on track to reach her goals.
Finding true love
Drew stood by Emily after the accident and has been with her in the years since. “As a 21-year old male, he could be out dating anyone else, but he stays with me,” she explains. “He understands the limitations I have. It is a big challenge.” Emily and Drew live together in an apartment while they’re in college, and he’s even paid through the state to be her caregiver. “We tried to separate caregiver from boyfriend and I know he can’t take care of me forever, but it is working out right now,” she explains.
“He has my best interest at heart, and you don’t know true love until you have to wipe someone’s butt. It was hard and humiliating, at first, to accept myself and my new body image.”
She’s fully aware that not every man would step up the way Drew has. “I got lucky,” she admits. “His love has boosted my confidence. I am more mature, smarter now. What we have, it is more than the physical.” They work together as a team to maximize what Emily can do, while stepping up to help her go places and do things that aren’t accessible. She and Drew also enjoy a “close and satisfying sexual relationship” that brings them closer together as a couple.
Even with all these good things going for her, everyone has their darker moments, which Emily manages day by day. “Not being able to move around is hard on me. I…was comfortable in my own body and clothes. Now, I need to accept how I look due to atrophy and having to have Drew with me. He does everything—it is unheard of. I got lucky with someone who wants to help me, and loves and cares about me.” No matter what challenges she’s up against, Emily looks for positivity, even if it’s difficult, but wants others to see her reality. “I have found people to not be very sympathetic. People stare; kids ask what the hole is in my throat,” she explains. “We all want to feel accepted as a human.”
Often labeled as an inspiration, Emily wants to be sure people know it’s no walk in the park.
“I hate when people tell me I am inspiring, because I don’t really have a choice. He takes my mind off of being paralyzed. He doesn’t treat me like I am different. I just want to go out and live my life, even if it is differently.”
Emily has plans, everything from skydiving to maybe one day having a family of her own, but all in due time. “After living the life of a quadriplegic you can take what you can. If can I go out with my friends and not pee in my pants, I can be happy.”
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