Starting over

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TURNER – Monica Quimby, the 19-year-old college student who was paralyzed Jan. 28 while skiing at Sunday River, is home.

She spent 76 days at the Shepherd Center in Georgia for physical therapy. Quimby and her mother flew back Friday. She was greeted with flowers, banners, hugs and shrieks of joy.

The celebration continues. A community “welcome home” party will be held Saturday.

On Monday, Monica greeted visitors with a smile and joke from her wheelchair.

“Have a seat. I’m already sitting.”

Coming home Friday was exciting, she said, but emotionally overwhelming.

She used the new wheelchair ramp the Masons built.

Her old bedroom was upstairs, next to Sarah’s, her sister. Her new bedroom is downstairs.

It was tough, Monica said, looking at her Leavitt Area High School memorabilia, especially reminders of her field hockey and track days.

“Yeah, I’m home. But it’s going to be different. Basically I’m starting a new life all over again.”

At the Georgia facility everyone around her was in wheelchairs. Now she’s getting used to “all the people walking,” she said with a laugh.

Since January, Monica has made great progress.

She remembers spending 10 days flat on a stretcher, wearing a back brace, staring at the ceiling.

Now she wheels her wheelchair up and down her road.

In February, she rode in a handicap equipped van.

Now she rides in ordinary cars. “I hop in the front passenger seat,” and then break down the wheelchair to get it in the car, she said. It takes longer than getting in the car used to. “Patience,” she said with a smile.

She goes out to eat, to the movies, to the mall. “This is a new outfit,” she said showing off a pretty skirt and top.

She’s come far “by keeping a positive attitude,” Monica said. “That sounds cheesy, but it’s 100 percent of recovery.”

The optimistic outlook snowballs. At the Shepherd Center other nurses recommended that other recently paralyzed teens look to her for help. “I had a couple of little sisters. … I gave them advice. I showed them how I could move around.”

She called them Sunday to say Happy Easter. She plans to stay in touch. “This is a life-changing event. People who went through it with you, you owe so much to them.”

She’s had plenty of rough days. When the reality set in about how her life will be different, “there were dark times, definitely. It interrupted my life.” She refused antidepressants. She wanted to work through the emotional pain on her own.

This fall she’ll be back at the University of New Hampshire, which offers support for students with disabilities.

Until then she has work in front of her, strengthening her legs and keeping her upper body strong. She’ll go swimming, undergo physical therapy, massages and acupuncture.

While doctors cautioned she may never walk again, Monica doesn’t accept that. “I’ve had movement come back.” Wearing long leg braces, she’s walked on parallel bars. Initially her paralysis included all of her legs. Today she has movement in her upper thighs and one knee. She recently moved a big toe. “It’s melting,” she said. “There’s hope.”

Before, she worried some friends might drop her since she’s bound to a wheelchair. Instead they’ve embraced her. She’s had plenty of calls, letters, cards, e-mails and visits.

“The best part is people don’t treat me differently,” she said. “My friends and family are still there for me.”

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