Diagnosis: SCI
Level of injury: T6
Cause: Car accident
Age at onset: 18

Vanessa has traveled the world. She’s well educated and successful. She met her husband in a youth hostel in New Mexico. They live in D.C., where she stays busy keeping up with two kids under the age of five. Vanessa’s next goal is to hone her professional skills (she has lots of those) and go to the next stage in her career.

Oh, and this is all after the accident that left her a paraplegic.

“I was 18 when it happened. I had just graduated from high school and I was backpacking around Europe. I was in Nice, riding on the back of a friend’s moped and we were hit by a car.”

The memory, says Vanessa, is thankfully vague. She doesn’t remember details or pain. She recalls ambulance lights and concerned paramedics, and then nothing until she woke up in a French hospital, where she spent a month before being flown back to Florida.

For most of that time, her prognosis was as cloudy as the details of the accident. “In France, they probably knew the truth but were keeping it from me. Whenever I would ask, they’d give me vague answers. Once I got back to Orlando, the doctor finally explained.”

And that’s when, at age 18, Vanessa found out her life would be changing course—even though she wasn’t sure exactly how.

“It doesn’t have meaning to you until you start to live it. They’re just words. It was devastating but it was also a huge unknown. I had no sense of what kind of life I’d have. And I was in shock. We were all in shock.”

Vanessa’s shock gave way to frustration.

“I had lots of hurdles to overcome in that process of adjusting to my new life. I was supposed to start college but because of the accident I deferred one semester and went home to live with my parents. Those initial months were really hard. I had left home and suddenly I was coming back—it was right at that moment when I had been becoming independent. I spent a lot of time just getting used to things, building up my strength, learning transfers, learning how to push myself in my chair. It’s difficult figuring out how to do things in a new way. It takes practice.”

But Vanessa wasn’t going to practice forever. She was ready to get back to her life—no matter what her new future looked like.

“When I went back to school it was the first time I was out and about on my own. I remember when my parents left me in my dorm room, thinking ‘Wow. Okay. This is it.’ I was nervous to be by myself—what were people going to think? How were they going to treat me?”

Luckily, it doesn’t take people long to warm up to Vanessa. “I ended up having a good time. I made friends, I had a normal college experience.”

She majored in French, but the memory of the accident in Nice haunted her studies. “I felt strongly that the accident wasn’t going to define what France meant to me, so I did a study abroad there my junior year. I had a wonderful experience!”

Vanessa’s journey didn’t end there. She went to London to get a graduate degree in art history and finally ended up in D.C for a paid internship.

Did you think she’d stop there? Hardly.

Vanessa worked in the museum field and continued to travel. It was while traveling in New Mexico for three weeks that she met her South African husband in a youth hostel. They have two children: four-and-a-half-year-old Stella and two-year-old Felix.

Finally, Vanessa admits to feeling a little overwhelmed! “It’s challenging but it is easier now that they’re older. The early years were tough. And I’m lucky to have had help from nannies or au pairs. It is physically demanding, all the basic stuff like getting the kids in and out of the car seat and pushing them in the stroller. I feel fortunate to have someone to share the load with.”

One of the reasons she’s grateful for the help is that it allows her time to use the RT300, which she discovered about a year and a half ago. Vanessa was researching Kennedy Krieger as a place to get back in shape and try various treatments. When she heard they have the RT300, her mind was made up: “I was definitely going to go!”

The first time Vanessa used the RT300, it exhausted her—a good sign in her book. “It was tiring the first time. I was out of breath. It really wasn’t easy. Your body has to build up strength slowly. But when it does, when that cardio kicks in, it starts feeling good.”

So good, in fact, she purchased her own RT300.

“I feel strongly that I need to invest in my health. I need to do what I have to in order to keep my body running smoothly. And having kids—it’s so important to stay healthy and fit as long as I can for them, for me and for our family. It’s a time commitment, but I need to make it.”

That time commitment lasts two to three times a week for an hour each session. “Honestly, with kids it’s a lot to squeeze into my day. But it’s completely worth it. Plus, I get to watch TV during my sessions—it’s my time!”

Vanessa has noticed a variety of benefits since she started using her RT300. “I’ve definitely seen a reduction in muscle spasms. I notice that after a session my legs are less jumpy. I think it’s because all that energy gets released! And my muscles are much more toned, especially in my quads. My glutes are firmer too.”

Speaking of energy, Vanessa has a lot more of it these days—and with her lifestyle, she needs it. “I have more energy on days I’ve used the RT300. It improves my mood. I feel good about myself. In fact, that’s what I’ve noticed most since I got the RT300. The main difference has been in my overall endurance. Physical activity is so good for me. It not only feels good, it’s burning calories, helping me get back into shape.”

Vanessa’s words of advice for anyone looking into the RT300? “You have to invest in your health. And this is a wonderful way to put your resources into your well-being. It’s an investment in your future.”