Determined survivor conquers ski injury

Published: November 25, 2004  |  Source: mlive.com
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GRAND RAPIDS — Vicky Schmidt is getting used to battling back.

The latest setback for the 40-year-old Grand Rapids Paraplegic was a ski accident last winter when she took a spill during an accessible ski program at Cannonsburg Ski Area.

As she flew down the hill seated in a bucket on two skis, something happened. She wasn’t tethered to an instructor because she had been skiing well for weeks. When the bucket started to tip, she couldn’t stop it with her handheld outrigger skis. It flipped and she suffered a bad spiral fracture of her upper left arm.

After surgery to pin the bones, she couldn’t use her arm for 12 weeks, which meant she couldn’t propel her lightweight wheelchair. Nor could she drive her van or transfer herself from one place to another.

She needed total care in the Northwest Side home she shares with her husband, Terry, their children — Trevor, 12, and Tori, 7 — and a host of caregivers.

“I was in such a funk. It was a dark time for me, and I thought, ‘What else can be taken away from me? Here I go from zero again,’ ” Schmidt said.

But nothing keeps Schmidt down for long. The day the doctor said she could resume her activities, she power washed the outside of her house.

“The doctor said to just take baby steps getting back into things. But when I got back into my sports chair, I felt like I had wings!” she said.

Press readers met Terry and Vicky Schmidt in a story last year about the rollover accident in 2001 that smashed their lives. Stories also followed the couple’s two years of grueling Rehabilitation.

In the crash, Vicky suffered a broken back, a neck fracture, broken ribs, a broken nose and cheekbones, a collapsed lung and a spinal cord injury that paralyzed her legs. Doctors said she would never walk again.

But last fall she used new technology to walk with a walker and crutches.

Terry had a broken pelvis, broken ribs, collapsed lungs and a traumatic brain injury that put him into a coma for eight weeks. Doctors didn’t expect him to live and, when he awoke, they said he would never leave a nursing home. But last year he came home to relearn how to walk, talk and eat.

The couple lost their lifestyle of snowmobiling, scuba diving and other active sports. Terry lost his livelihood as a home builder, and they won’t return to the home he built near Gaylord because they need to be near rehab experts here. They have seen dreams for their family slip away.

But they are determined to be all they can be. And they are showing what can be done with cutting edge therapies and old-fashioned grit and hard work.

Three years after the accident, Terry is still recovering, exploding long-held beliefs that after damaging injuries the gains last only six months to a year. Earlier this month he stopped using a wheelchair. And he rides a three-wheeled bike.

“Terry is really motivated. His brain keeps finding new pathways (around the injured area). He’s using a walker now and his balance has improved,” Schmidt said.

She admits her ski accident was a setback. She had to stop the therapy that got her on her feet. Worse yet, someone told her it was foolhardy to do anything but sit in her wheelchair; and, for a time, she agreed. But she has changed her mind. She will ski again this year and has convinced Terry to try it, too.

Vicky took the kids on a Disney cruise in July while Terry went fishing. Vicky has ordered a hand-propelled bike so the whole family can ride together.

She says three months of being nearly helpless again has changed her attitude about her limitations. “It really made me appreciate the things I can do.”

By Kathleen Longcore
The Grand Rapids Press