My whole life I’ve always believed everyone has a purpose. Sometimes you may not know your purpose until something tragic happens or you’re in a situation that you never imagined you would be in, but you eventually learn what your purpose is. I never knew my purpose until God forced me to see it.
On January 31st, 2015, at only 19 years old, I was driving my 10-week-old puppy Lilly to the vet for her shots when a hay truck that was carrying stolen hay was coming at me head-on in my lane. I swerved to miss him, and it caused me to flip end over end for 75 yards. I was ejected and thrown 50 feet from my car and landed flat on my back on the ground. I remember the feeling of landing flat on my back out of the air like it was yesterday. I remember my first thought being “Lilly!” and I tried to get up, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t do anything.
A few seconds later I remember hearing someone scream “say something, say something!” and all I said was, “Help.” I remember him running over to me and saying, “I have help on the way, it’s going to be okay!” I don’t remember anything after that. I was put into an ambulance and taken to a local church where a helicopter could land and I was life-flighted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. I died that day. I took my last breath when first responders put me in that helicopter. EMTs did chest compressions the whole way there trying to keep blood flowing to my lungs.
When I arrived in Atlanta, I still had no pulse and no blood pressure. I was rushed straight into the OR into immediate surgery so they could open me up and bring me back. My spleen had ruptured, causing all of my organs to bleed internally. They were able to remove it and stop the bleeding. At the time, I wasn’t stable enough for any other surgeries, so they still weren’t able to see what other injuries I had. No one knew if I would make it through the night.
By God’s grace, I did. I stayed on the ventilator along with having 5 breathing tubes in ICU and 2 days later, I was stable enough for X-Rays and CT scans to look for other injuries. They found that my entire spine was shattered into pieces, my spinal cord was severed, I had a C2 hangman bone fracture in my neck and collapsed lungs. The next day, I went into an 8-hour back surgery where they reconstructed my entire spine with rods and screws and were also able to see that my spinal cord injury was at level T12, which leaves me paralyzed from the waist down.
After my back surgery, I was able to wake up. I was still on the ventilator, so I couldn’t talk. I didn’t understand much of what had happened and what was going on. I couldn’t sit up, but I could use my hands, so I could write. I laid there every day writing notes to my mom and family members, my boyfriend at the time, and my friends. Although I couldn’t see what I was writing and a lot of times they couldn’t make out what I was writing, I made it work. That was my way of communicating.
I knew I couldn’t feel my legs, but at the time I didn’t know why. I was told by my surgeons that I would never walk again, but I still just didn’t know or understand much of anything. I stayed in ICU for the next 2 weeks and was transferred to the Shepherd Center, a world-renowned rehabilitation center for brain and spinal cord injury patients. I spent my first 3 weeks at Shepherd in ICU and I finally had my lung surgery and was able to come off of the ventilator and breathing tubes. After I healed from the surgery, I was moved to a regular room and was able to begin very intense physical, occupational, and recreational therapy. I spent a total of 7 ½ months at the Shepherd Center, healing and learning to live again from a wheelchair with only the use of my upper body. It was the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life, but I’m completely independent today because of it.
At 19, you don’t really think something like waking up and finding out you will be paralyzed for the rest of your life could happen to you, until it does. And when it does, it seems to teach you a few things about life. It seems to give you a different perspective: a better perspective. At least, it did for me. You learn who you are, what you’re made of. YOU LEARN YOUR PURPOSE. It’s been almost 5 years now since the accident and time seems to pass by faster with each year that goes by. January 31st is just another day for me now and Lilly is alive and well, too. She is my best friend. The bond we share could never be broken.
That boyfriend I had at the time, he’s now my husband. The most amazing husband I could ever ask for. Those family members, we’re all closer than ever before. I couldn’t be more thankful. And me- I’m a speaker, blogger, and a social media influencer. I live life every single day from my wheelchair and with only the use of my upper body. I drive. I visit Shepherd often and give back to other patients who are in the same situation that I was in, and I teach OT and PT students how to teach a future paralyzed patient of theirs to live life and get dressed from a wheelchair. I do everything that any able-bodied person would do on a daily basis, just in a different way.
I’m still in physical therapy to this day, only 1 day a week for my overall health and range of motion. I also proved my surgeons wrong and I walked down the aisle to my husband in my leg braces, all with the help of my physical therapist training me for 3 whole years. This turned out to be another difficult task, but I think every girl dreams of walking down the aisle to her husband from the time she’s a child. It was something I had pictured in my head from the time I was a little girl and I didn’t want that picture to be played out differently just because of my accident. So, I chased my dream. I conquered my goal and I hope I prove to every girl out there that they, too, can still have that special moment on their big day if they put in the work and never give up on their dreams.
I live trying to inspire others with my story because I feel that’s my purpose. I feel God gave me my story for a reason and I should use it for the good. Almost 5 years ago, I never would’ve imagined I would be where I am today. The mountains, the valleys, the trials, the setbacks, the comebacks- there’s a certain beauty in all of them. They made me who I am. They tend to continually dig up the soil in me and let me see what I’m made of and there’s just something about that part where you find out who you are, when you find out why God gave you this specific battle. I think that’s the whole purpose of the journey- to find out who you are and what you’re made of. To find your why. To share God’s love. To shine light in darkness. To lean on him. To share how he’s made beauty out of ashes.
I’ve learned he won’t protect you from every trial in life, but he will bless you with the strength, wisdom, and grace to get through it. I’ve learned I wouldn’t still be here if there wasn’t more in store for me. I wouldn’t still be here if the journey was over. I’ve learned to keep my eyes fixed on the one who kept me breathing and keep my heart tied to the one who continually strengthens me to keep going. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what you’ve lost, in him you’ll find a reason to keep going that you won’t find anywhere else. Lilly and I celebrate our survival and the life that we still get to live day in and day out. I’m grateful for where we’re at, and excited about where we’re going. My wish for everyone I come in contact with and everyone that comes across my story is that you never stop living your life to the fullest no matter what you may be going through. Always follow your heart and dreams, and never give up!
You can connect with Ally on Instagram (@allygrizzard) or in the LIKEtoKNOW.it app (@allygrizzard).