Maria’s Road to Recovery

Maria’s accident crushed the entire left side of her body.

Editor’s Note: Maria Rea suffered horrible injuries in a one-car accident. She was unconscious for a week, heavily sedated for 6 weeks, and lived in the hospital for 9 months. Her life, the life of her family, and the life of her community were changed forever on February 25, 2011, when Maria answered a telephone call on her cell phone as she was driving to work. This remarkable story tells the true story of a courageous woman and the family and the community that never gave up on her. Part 3 of a 5 part series.

The doctors at Savannah Memorial Hospital had saved Maria’s life, but her father realized she would need major physical therapy as she recovered. He contacted a friend at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, and the family made the decision to send Maria there. Maria was still in critical condition when she was transferred to the Shepherd Center and the EMTs reported that her condition was touch and go the entire ride. When she arrived, she was put in intensive care for another 3 weeks before moving into inpatient therapy.

Maria recalls her time at the Shepherd Center, “When I’d come in and out of consciousness during this period of time, I really couldn’t focus or totally understand what was going on with my body until 4 or 5 months after the accident. When I was finally able to see and understand what had happened, I realized that my body was totally broken. The only thing I could move was my right arm and my head. My first thought was, ‘Oh, my God. How did I live through this?’ Neither my parents nor my husband told me I was paralyzed. I knew that my back was broken but I didn’t know I was paralyzed. The first time I really noticed this was when the nurses tried to get me out of the bed and into a wheelchair, and I couldn’t get up. My first thought was, “Why can’t I get into the wheelchair by myself? I’m not sitting up. My legs aren’t moving off the side of the bed. Something is very wrong.” My physician, Dr Bowman, finally came in and said, ‘You’re paralyzed. Your T11 and T12 vertebrae were severely damaged, but your spinal cord was not severed. He said my chances of walking again were slim but that he was not giving up the thought of me walking with long leg braces one day.

Rehab was a roller coaster for Maria.

Rehab was a long, drawn out process. “I entered a new world that I wasn’t prepared for. My inpatient rehab was very, very painful because my left arm had been so mutilated in the accident. I understood the physical therapist had to start moving my arm so the blood flow would stay in the arm, however, when anyone lifted my arm, it caused unbelievable pain. The slightest touch to my arm felt like daggers going through my body. I also had to wear a back brace for 4 months during that first rehab, and my hips  and entire body were in a lot of pain. Rehab got better after a while. I was taught how to care for myself, how to take a shower, and how to transfer from the bed to the wheelchair with a transfer board, although that transfer board was a rude awakening. The therapists gave me the board and wanted me to slide from my bed into the wheelchair, knowing I couldn’t move half of my body. Honestly, I felt like I was on a roller coaster. Sliding down that board was really scary for me. I have to admit even now, transferring is sometimes still scary for me.”

After inpatient therapy, Maria started day therapy. During day therapy, Maria stayed in an apartment that was part of the Shepherd Center. Here, Maria learned how to operate a manual wheelchair. “The therapists were also able to teach me to use a standing frame, and they put me in a swimming pool, and I began to swim. During that time, I regained a lot of function back in my left arm.

Next: Maria Endures More Rehab But Finally Gets Her Life Back 

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

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