Freshman takes spinal cord injury in stride

Brooke Rallis came to the University of New Hampshire in high hopes of being considered an equal among the thousands of freshmen.

Standing at 5 feet 3 inches with her crutches, Rallis underestimated the tribulations that would come with a large-walking campus in the New England Region.

In June 2006, when she was 16 years old, Rallis was just like any other teenager. As she played a game one day, a game like “Simon Says,” she was told to “hit the deck” and ended up falling forward and tore an artery in her neck, which resulted in a blood clot and stopped the blood flow to her spinal cord.

Rallis had a C-2 spinal cord injury. Her doctors considered her lucky.

“I should be a quadriplegic on a ventilator,” she said.

She said that she is able to walk again because she didn’t actually damage the vertebra.

“They told me that I fell the ‘right way,'” said Rallis.

Before committing to UNH, Brooke applied to Plymouth State University, Keene State College and Curry College. She chose UNH because it was closer to her Hampton, N.H., home, which would make it easier for her to go home and rest, as well as the proximity to her physical therapy location.

She was placed in Congreve Hall, the campus’ most handicap-accessible dorm, with a loving and caring roommate.
“I love the school,” said Rallis. “Everyone here is willing to help and I don’t feel discouraged asking for it, which was one of my concerns for coming to college in general.”

On a fairly large campus, Rallis encounters obstacles in getting from place to place on a daily basis.

During the winter season, especially, Rallis finds it more difficult to walk in the snow. With the recent Nor’easter, she stayed inside for over 24 hours because she wasn’t able to walk through the snow.

“It takes a lot more effort for me to walk to places in comparison to ‘normal’ people,” said Rallis. “I also get fatigued a lot easier. I am more surprised each day at how much more energy I end up exerting than the average person.”

However, since coming to UNH, Rallis and her doctors have noticed that her fatigue is becoming less prevalent and she is also becoming physically stronger.

Rallis, majoring in community leadership in the Thompson School, was hesitant to come to college since her accident happened in her junior year of high school. She took a year off from school for rehabilitation and to adjust to her new lifestyle.

Now at UNH, she chose the Thompson School because of the convenience of classes. Her parents and doctors wanted to see how her body would handle it.

“In case you haven’t noticed, this school is huge,” she said. “If I wanted to walk to classes in the other colleges, it would take me at least three times as long as someone else and that would be worse in the winter. All of the classes at the T-School are really accessible for a person like me.”

Rallis takes the bus to class every day.

“It’s kind of a downer, though,” she said. “You see all of your friends walking to class and you’d rather be walking with them, but most of them would probably find it frustrating to walk at my pace.”

Despite the negative aspects, she said her experience at UNH has been awesome.

“Everyone here is so nice and considerate of my disability,” said Rallis. “I fell and fractured my ankle in the dorm, and now I am in a wheelchair. Talk about different disabilities and dealing with each one.”

Her attitude is kind and considerate and she is known to be an inspiration among her peers.

“When I first met her, I wouldn’t have imagined all of the things she has gone through,” said Amanda Burke, 19, one of Brooke’s floor mates in Congreve Hall. “She doesn’t want people to pity her, and she always has a huge smile on her face and a good story to tell. She’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”

Her neighbor, Taylor Phillips, 21, said she is one of the friendliest people she’s ever met. “Even if she doesn’t know you that well, she is eager to get to know you and more about your life,” said Phillips.

By Megan Mahoney

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