COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - On a cold day in mid-February, Kathleen Oglesby was tearing down a hill on a lime-green sled with her younger sister, Olivia.
It was late afternoon, and a thin layer of ice coated the slope in a residential neighborhood off Crestwood Lane, the Columbia Missourian (https://bit.ly/1H90jjU ) reported.
All of a sudden, the sled accelerated, whipped the two girls around and slammed into a tree.
Oglesby, 21, remembers lying motionless on the ground. Her sister took one look at her and called their mother, who dialed 911.
Later that afternoon, after a series of tests, the doctors would explain to Oglesby that her condition pointed to a crack in her spine. The nerve was not severed - a sign she could walk again one day - but she had broken five ribs, shattered several vertebrae and fractured her wrist, collarbone and shoulder blade.
That night, she fell asleep in her hospital bed in a drugged daze, unaware of her surroundings, which was just as well. The next day was the beginning of an uphill battle.
“Whenever I had a quiet moment to myself, I kept thinking about all the things I may never get to do again,” she said. “That was the hardest part.”
In the 2 1/2 months since the accident, the University of Missouri junior has been living in her parents’ Columbia home as she re-teaches herself how to master the daily routines she once took for granted. It’s a slow, sometimes frustrating process, with highs and lows, good days and bad.
She remembers that the first few weeks at home were an enormous adjustment. She swapped bedrooms with her sister so she could live on the main floor, though the doors are barely wide enough for her new silver-blue wheelchair. Simple tasks such as using the bathroom, taking a shower and putting on clothes suddenly required assistance.
Getting dressed, she said, continues to be the most tiresome part of the morning. It’s harder to pull up a pair of jeans when you can’t wiggle into them.
She usually gets them halfway up before they slip back down to her ankles. Shoes and socks aren’t much easier. She has to heave her feet onto the bed to slip them on.
Twice-a-week physical and occupational therapy sessions have given her tricks to make life easier - using her upper body to propel herself into the passenger-side seat of a car, for instance - but little irritations remain at the end of the day.
She said it’s difficult to accept that most things take more time.
“The other day it was rainy, and we came home, and my clothes were really wet because we had been outside,” she said. “All I wanted to do was take a hot shower and change my clothes, but I couldn’t.”
Oglesby discovered early that it’s best to fill her days with distractions. A member of her extended family always seems to be around the house - her grandmother loves to play cards, and her cousin has a knack for covering pop songs on the guitar.
She’s also become used to unannounced visits from Alpha Phi sorority sisters who take her out for ice cream or lunch, to the mall or a movie.
Her favorite part of the week, she said, is when she can escape for a few hours to see her friends from K-Life, a national Christian organization with local chapters. Immersing herself in her religion has been the most helpful tool to recovery, she said. Faith has changed her outlook.
“Being around my K-Life friends has reminded me that God will be there, and he has a plan for everything,” she said. “He’s not going to give me something I can’t handle.”
She met her boyfriend, Kory McDonald, in K-life when they were students at Rock Bridge High School. Both have grown in their beliefs since the accident, she said.
McDonald was supposed to be on the sledding hill that day with Oglesby, but he arrived late to see flashing lights and an audience of bystanders. He said he spent the next few days in private torment, watching his girlfriend in a plastic neck brace drift in and out of consciousness.
Those initial thoughts, he said, were soon replaced with the knowledge that the optimistic girl he loves is still around. As Oglesby’s self-appointed “taxi driver,” he has been with her almost every day and has watched her slowly return to her old cheerful self.
“That’s what’s made me most proud - she’s still having fun with life and not letting this get her down,” he said. “It’s been an incredible experience, and I think faith has really helped both of us get through it.”
On a recent Saturday, the two waited outside Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church where a benefit event for Oglesby was wrapping up. Inside, the quiet sanctuary had been transformed into a bustling marketplace as at least 20 vendors shouted the prices of baked goods, clothing, jewelry and more.
Ashley Adams, a friend of the Oglesby family who organized the benefit, said the $11,500 in proceeds will go toward modifications to their home.
As people started to empty out around 2 p.m., Oglesby and McDonald offered outstretched hands and polite conversation by the front double doors. Some of the exiting visitors were old friends who traded jokes with them; others were strangers and friends of friends inspired by Oglesby’s story.
Nearly everyone who approached her made some sort of comment about her broad smile. She kept repeating that she has a lot to be happy about these days. Mild sensations have started returning to her legs in small waves, she’s enrolled in an online course for the summer and hopes to return to campus in the fall.
Doctors have told her there’s no way of knowing at this point whether she will regain use of her lower body in five years or 20, but Oglesby’s trying her best not to worry about it.
In front of the congregation at Our Lady of Lourdes, which she has attended all her life, she rolled back and forth in her wheelchair with newfound control.
She said she was in a good place. The future is out of her hands, and she’s been able to see that more and more every day.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I can’t see it yet, but I know it’s coming.”
Information from: Columbia Missourian, https://www.columbiamissourian.com
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