Red Deer resident Brenda Schultz has been on an incredibly challenging road to recovery since an injury abruptly altered her life last fall.
Schultz, 38, an educational assistant at Grandview School in Red Deer and single mother of two boys, was out for a run in early September, making her way through Kin Kanyon in the early evening.
Little did she know that just hours later, she would experience severe injuries leaving her unable to walk. She had been visiting a friend in the country. It was dark out, and she fell off their deck 15 ft. and shattered her spine in four places and damaged her spinal cord.
Surgery at the University of Alberta was followed by a short stay in Red Deer before being transported to the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary for extensive rounds of rehabilitation. Fortunately, her spinal cord wasn’t severed but she is in a wheel chair.
She held a fundraiser last fall to help cover the soaring costs of treatment, which of late have included a six-week stint at Project Walk near San Diego, California.
“It’s intense therapy,” she explains. “Their focus is to tap into your nervous system and help you regain the muscle that you’ve lost.” She spent hours being trained in various exercises with the goal of re-teaching her brain in a different way.
Gait training exercises included walking on a treadmill while being supported in a harness, so Schultz could experience the mechanics of walking while simultaneously building muscle. “It holds me up while I walk, so the idea is to simulate walking,” she explains. “It reminds the brain that this is what the legs do – one foot in front of the other.”
These days, she spends part of the week at a spinal cord facility in Calgary called Syn.ap.tic while maintaining a therapy routine in Red Deer as well.
Rehabilitation is clearly a challenge on virtually every level, but Schultz is up for the fight to get better. It’s of course a demanding pace, balancing her time between Calgary and Red Deer while also being a mom to her sons as well.
But ultimately, she is determined to be free of her wheel chair. “This chair is not an option for me. That’s my motto – it’s not an option.
“It’s slow and it’s going to be a really, really long road, and it’s expensive but I’m noticing the changes and the progress. I am getting stronger.”
She can now pull herself to a standing position and walk with a walker. “I’ve got a death grip on the walker, but I’m walking with it.
“The other day I also posted on facebook something that is a huge thing for me – I was able to pull myself to a standing position, kind of lean on the counter and I filled the pepper shaker. That was amazing to me; it was a huge deal because back when I was in the hospital I didn’t know what tomorrow was going to look like. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Meanwhile, she has also launched another fundraiser, selling wristbands to help pay for the massive bills she faces each month for this rehab. But funds are running short and she is relying on folks to continue to help her out. There is also an ATB Financial Trust called ‘Brenda Schultz in Trust’ to help cover costs for her and her children.
She will also be away from work for an unknown period of time and needs specific medical care and equipment for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve got my eye on the prize, and the prize is walking. I don’t know what it will look like – how fast or how slow. I may not be skiing again, or riding my bike like the wind like I did before. But I don’t want this chair anymore, and I know there is a way out of it – to get stronger. It’s going to take a long time, but I’m stubborn. I’m not somebody who gives up or says ‘I can’t find a way’.
“Everything does take longer now. It’s trickier, and I have to think about how I’m going to do it. I have to manage my time, there’s bathroom issues and sleeping issues. But on a positive note, I look at how many people have helped me.”
The love, compassion and help she continues to receive is touching.
“Whether people are giving time, money, banana bread or supper, a hug or a phone call – I knew I had good friends and family, but to see perfect strangers do something for someone they don’t know has impressed me, too.
“For me, the hardest thing everyday is the constant battle is to not let the dark side in. I could probably cry all day, or be sad all day or feel sorry for myself. I think that’s when you lose and you give up. But my kids, family and friends matter too much.”
Those interested in helping Schultz or purchasing a wristband can call 403-343-8292. For more information, there is also a facebook page entitled ‘Brenda Schultz Support.’