Building the Future

November 27, 2009
Young Woman Turns Spinal Cord Injury into an Inspirational Career

There was broken glass and debris everywhere, and I could hear sirens in the distance. Just moments before I was sleeping in the car as we drove home from a family vacation in Florida. I was jolted awake as the car flipped over, and I could feel myself being thrown around as if I were in a washing machine. I was strangely calm, lying half in and half out of the backseat - until the paramedic checked me for injuries and I couldn't feel anything. I began to panic. When I asked if I was paralyzed, he wouldn't answer.

When I was stable, I was transferred from a hospital in Florida to the Kennedy Krieger Institute. I felt so lucky this world-renowned hospital was right in my hometown, Baltimore. When I got there, I couldn't speak, breathe, eat, or drink. People had to read my lips whenever I needed something. I hadn't sat up in a month and a half. I couldn't even start therapy until they could put me in a wheelchair.

When I did start therapy, it was exhausting and incredibly painful. I cried all the time, wanting to go home. But we began to make progress. My doctors, nurses, and therapists supported me and encouraged me even when I wanted to give up, and they became like a second family to me.

When I finally went back to high school, it was overwhelming, but fortunately my friends were there for me. When I graduated, I went to college to study architecture. A lot of people didn't believe I would be able to study a discipline that required me to use my hands to draw. I had to prove I could do it. I used splints on my hands to help me when I was drawing, and I supplemented with computer design programs when I could. Not only did I finish the program, I graduated with honors.

Now I work for Harris-Kupfer Architects, Inc. They've been so supportive, even getting a handicap accessible office. My goal is to become a licensed architect so I can design residential buildings using universal design, which means considering the needs of all people, no matter their abilities. I have a unique perspective on two worlds that I'm able to bring to my designs because I know what it's like to walk, and I know what it's like to be in a wheelchair. The fact that some people can't walk up stairs or even turn doorknobs isn't something most people think about very often. I know I didn't.

I took a lot for granted before the accident. But despite all the challenges I've faced, I wouldn't change a thing. It might seem odd to say, but my injury gave me new opportunities. I found out so much about myself through my experience and learned to push myself to achieve my goals. I know now that if you can live with a disability, you can do just about anything. -As told by Carla Steppe to Meredith Purvis

To learn more about rehabilitation at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, please visit

Kennedy Krieger Institute Announces Retirement of President and CEO

Dr. Gary W. GoldsteinThe Institute’s board of directors is conducting a national search and is expected to name a new CEO in the coming months.
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