Quadriplegic Jesa Lopez Decided She Wouldn’t Let Her Disability Stop Her

Jesa Lopez has always loved the spotlight.

Jesa Lopez has always loved the spotlight.

Editor’s Note: Jesa Lopez of Oklahoma, an avid dancer, planned to travel the United States with a dance troupe and forego her senior year in high school to begin her dancing career as soon as possible. But then life put a huge obstacle in her way – an insurmountable obstacle, most would believe. However, at 32-years old today, the dancer in Jesa Lopez wouldn’t allow her to give up on her dream. Not only does she dance today, but she has a new goal and a new challenge to teach the wheelchair world how to dance. Part 2 of a 5 part series.

“I knew I wouldn’t be a handicapped person,” Lopez explains. Lopez heard of a surgery that an American doctor was doing in other countries to repair spinal cords. So, Lopez and her family raised the money for her to go to Argentina and have the surgery a year after her wreck. She went through with the surgery, however, her spinal cord was so severely damaged that it couldn’t be repaired. She did regain some mobility and was able to function like someone who had a C6 spinal cord injury. Today she can move her hands even though she doesn’t have full mobility. She has use from the top part of her stomach up and use of her back muscles all the way down to her hips, and although she can hold herself upright, she doesn’t have very-good balance. She has to continually work her muscles to maintain her balance.

The first year after her accident, Lopez refused to learn anything the physical therapist taught her because she knew she’d be walking again. Her mom had to get her in and out of bed. She re-enrolled at school and friends would pick her up and drop her off every day. Lopez recalls the moment when she realized she could take care of herself. “One day my mom was late for work, and she didn’t have time to get me out of bed. I will never forget what she said. ‘Here’s your sliding board, and here’s your wheelchair. The physical therapist says you have to use these to transfer. If you get hungry or thirsty, you’ll have to learn to use the sliding board to get into your wheelchair. I am late for work, and I have to go.’” Lopez admits today that she got really mad and felt that her mother was abandoning her. But after a couple of hours of laying in the bed, “I started getting hungry and decided I probably could get in my wheelchair by myself and make a sandwich by myself. A week later I decided, ‘Okay, I’m ready to drive a car again.’ My mom’s tough love had forced me to be independent and what a blessing that was.”

That one little push forced her to learn how to live. But it took another year for her to accept her disability. As Lopez became more and more self-sufficient, she decided to go to college. She moved into the dorms and got an apartment by herself after her second semester. Before the accident, Lopez never had planned to go to college. “I was going to join a traveling dance troupe and dance and do musical theater the rest of my life and even I thought I’d eventually dance in movies,” Lopez explains.

“When I was 16, before the accident, I had gone to Los Angeles with a talent group and had placed in the top-10 in a competition for dancers. During that week while I was in Hollywood, there was a big talent show. I met with agents and managers, although I didn’t get signed by an agent. Many of the other dancers in the competition made their decisions to go ahead and move to Los Angeles. I started begging my mom, ‘Please let me go.’ One of the older dancers would be my guardian. My mom wouldn’t let me go because I was only 16. I had lined-up an audition with a traveling dance group for a week after I had my accident. I had planned to finish high school by correspondence and would have left home and traveled the country dancing, but after my accident, I knew that dream was over.”

It took a big push for Jesa to start living her life again.

It took a big push for Jesa to start living her life again.

Finally accepting that she never would be able to dance again was a horrible realization for Lopez. “I went back to high school and then on to college. I hung-out with my friends, and I did everything that an able-bodied teenager would do at that age. My life was pretty normal except for the fact that I couldn’t dance. For 14 years I couldn’t even watch people dance, the pain was so great. I refused to go to dance recitals, I wouldn’t go to the ballet, and I couldn’t even watch dance on TV. Dance was the only thing I wasn’t able to do.”

Lopez was in severe depression for quite awhile, until she finally realized that as bad as her accident was, there was many others who had learned to live with and deal with worse disabilities. “One day in rehab I met a couple of guys who were only a few years older than me,” Lopez says. “They had been injured for awhile. They were at rehab for maintenance. They couldn’t move their hands at all. They came into my room and started acting silly and making me laugh. At that time, I didn’t want to go eat with other people, and I didn’t want to leave my room. But then I realized that I had the use of my hands, and they never would. That’s when I decided I needed to quit feeling sorry for myself, since some people were living with injures much worse than mine. These two guys far more disabled than me were happy, and they made me happy. We would hang out and talk, and they would tell me stories. They reminded of the cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead. They were in power chairs, and I was in a manual chair. We raced up and down the halls. One of the guys was 24 and had to be put in a wheelchair but couldn’t push himself.  So, I would use my wheelchair to push him around, and that’s when I really came to appreciate what I could do.”

Next: Jesa Lopez Gets Involved and Moves On with Her Life

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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