A Co Derry teenager left quadriplegic after a tragic training accident is living her dream of attending a a rehabiltation centre in America in a bid to walk again.
Jennifer Smyth from Eglinton has chronicled her recovery on her Facebook page ‘Jennifer’s Journey’, with photographs and videos of her recovery from the horrific injuries to her neck sustained after coming off a vault in the gym in September 2013.
In the last year, Jennifer’s goal has been to travel to America to attend ‘Project Walk Paralysis Recovery Centre’.
Jennifer has now achieved that goal.
Jennifer and her mum, Pamela, are currently enjoying the second week of their month-long stay in Orlando, Florida, at the rehabilitation centre.
“Project Walk’s goal is to help clients regain function below their level of injury through activity based exercise,” explained Jennifer.
“I broke my neck and sustained a spinal cord injury (SCI) in a gymnastics injury in September 2013.
“I was told not to expect to improve beyond sitting in my chair, but I have improved, and believe Project Walk will help me in my goal to walk again. Everyone here is super positive and want to help me become the best I can be.”
Jennifer explained how she found out about Project Walk.
“I first heard about Project Walk in 2014 from my gymnastics coach, Ann Hebor who had been following the recoveries of other injured gymnasts,” explained Jennifer.
“We initially planned to go in the summer of 2015 but, due to major surgery scheduling, we had to postpone it until now. I am here for four weeks, attending for at least two hours each week day.”
Jennifer said the experience so far has been tough, but says it has been “absolutely amazing”.
“The assessment went so much better than I could have hoped. They pushed me to see how much I had and, at times it was tough, but I loved it, just like regular gym,” said Jennifer. “I have now had three sessions and I am really looking forward to my forth.
“I have been standing, doing leg presses and stepping out between parallel bars. I have been using an elliptical stepper and a regular looking exercise bicycle.”
On Saturday, Jennifer posted a video on her Facebook page which showed her walking.
“I had an awesome day at Project Walk,” she posted. “By using Bioness leg devices and a pacer I was able to walk a few lengths of the gym. I felt like a toddler trying to get my balance, and taking a few steps before tripping, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. They are pulling the walker for me and activating the electrical stimulation forcing my legs to straighten but I am doing most of the lifting and stepping forward movement myself. I can feel every movement, which is great.”
Jennifer says attending Project Walk is everything and more than she had hoped for.
“My dad passed away on Easter Sunday and I really miss him, but I know he is watching and willing me on,” said Jennifer. “It is everything I had hoped for and more.”
Jennifer said attending ‘Project Walk’ has been her dream for the last two years, and she wants to say a massive, heartfelt thanks to everyone who has fundraised to help achieve her dream.
Since her accident, a massive fundraising effort has taken place, involving friends and fellow pupils from Limavady Grammar School, neighbours and family friends who have held charity events. The family are overwhelmed at the kindness of friends and strangers, many who have gone out of their way to help.
“I would like to thank everyone back home for all their fundraising,” said Jennifer.“There are too many people to thank individually, but I would like to thank every single person who contributed in any way making it possible for me to attend.I have posted some photos and videos on my Facebook page, Jennifer’s Journey, so anyone can follow me and see where the money is being used. Project Walk Orlando has also posted a video of me on their Facebook page.”