“It has changed me”
“I had a terrible relationship with my ex-boyfriend.” That’s how Tina Pesendorfer starts the story of her accident. “We had a fight that day. He was unpredictable and I was afraid of him. I was really in a panic,” she says about the 1st of June 2007. Then she made a decision which changed her entire life. “I was standing in front of a window in his apartment and I thought that the fastest way to get away from him was to jump out of the window onto a Plexiglass roof. I had just turned 18 years old and I acted on impulse. I didn’t think that something could go wrong.”
Tina jumped. She couldn’t land on the roof she wanted to reach and fell on a table. She ended up lying seriously injured on the ground. “I could not remember anything,” she says. Later on she found out that a cleaning woman noticed the accident and called an ambulance. Tina was immediately delivered to the hospital, had surgery and was put into an artificial deep sleep. She had broken bones and ribs due to the impact. When the doctor explained the radiographs to Tina’s parents, her father said, “Her spinal cord is damaged. Our child will never be able to walk again…”
Tina fought for her life in the intensive care unit and after two weeks she slowly started to recover from her accident. “I couldn’t talk because I was given artificial respiration by a tube. There were so many hoses around my body and a lot of different machines recorded my functions.”
The time on the intensive care unit was really confusing for Tina. She couldn’t even think about having spinal cord injury. Her family was with her every day. “When they weren’t there, I always looked at the smoke alarm on the ceiling. There was a code: 608/06. It didn’t matter from which side you read the code because it was always the same… I wasn’t ready to think about anything else except this unimportance.” Bit by bit she was released from the machines. After four weeks in the accident hospital Salzburg, Austria, they delivered Tina to a rehabilitation centre in Bad Häring. This was the first time she realised the extent of her injury. “The doctor told me that I am paralyzed from the 9th thoracic vertebra and that I cannot change anything.” This was a real shock for the young woman. “My mother and a lot of my friends visited me every day. It took some time until I made some friends in the rehabilitation centre and faced the situation.”
“Everyone stared at me”
Then we made the first excursion. “In a rehabilitation centre you are protected. Everything is handicap-accessible and you are treated like a normal person,” she remembers. “After some weeks we drove to a shopping mall with a therapist. This was the first time in public after my accident and everyone stared at me and my wheelchair. I realised that something in my life had changed dramatically.”
After two months Tina was allowed to go home. “My mother is a doctor and she knows how to take care of me. But I still think that the new situation was difficult for her to handle. Especially in the beginning, I always needed somebody around me.” Everything in the flat, where Tina grew up, felt completely different for her. “They renovated the whole flat for me. Nevertheless, everything was far too small with the wheelchair. My room suddenly became so tiny …”
Tina and her family got used to the new situation. “After the holidays, I completed the A-Level exam.” My school colleagues reacted in a positive way. “It was never a topic; who carries me over the stairs or who helps me. I had a really helpful environment and still a lot of friends.” Nevertheless, Tina went through a tough time. “I didn’t have and I don’t have contact with my ex-boyfriend anymore. But a lot of people talked and speculated about what happened on the day of my accident. That was really terrible for me.” After she finished school, she moved to Vienna in order to study journalism. “I loved the anonymity in Vienna. I was in student accommodation with friends and started being more independent.” After two years, she moved back to her home city and into her first independent apartment. “Everything there is perfectly coordinated for me.”
Tina started playing wheelchair tennis three years ago. “This really boosted my self-confidence. I was pushed by someone else for years because that was how I felt safe.” The sport showed her that she can manage a lot of challenges on her own. “I want to become even better on the tennis court. The Paralympics are my main goal.”
The 27 year old woman is currently studying at the University of Salzburg in order to become a teacher. “I already had a lot of very good internships during University.” Sometimes a lot of doubt overcomes her when she enters a new classroom. “But the doubts of how students react to me and my wheelchair, vanish into thin air. Authority has nothing to do with whether you sit or stand.”
Tina loves traveling around the world. “I have really got used to my current life but there are still a thousand thoughts in my head,” she explains. “I cannot be as spontaneous as I was before. I always have to check if there are any stairs or other hurdles for me. Is there a wheelchair accessible toilet? Will it be big enough? Did I pack enough in order to have my bladder under control? Constantly coordinating everything can be pretty exhausting,” she admits. “Especially in the beginning of a new relationship it is not easy to share everything with somebody. You have to lay everything out from the very start which is quite different when compared to other women. This really takes me a lot of willpower.”
Research as hope
“I hope that there will be something soon that improves my situation,” Tina says. “Sometimes, I am scared that I have forgotten how to stand on my feet. What if I have completely forgotten how to walk? It was such a long time ago that I used my legs…” In order to make people aware of her injury and to collect money for research, Tina will take part in the Wings for Life World Run on the 7th May 2017. Within the last 3 years, her team has grown enormously. “This year in Vienna, Team Tina had a highly motivated 35-person team and right in the front there was my Mama,” she smiles.
“We all hope that one day, spinal cord injury will be curable. If I could use my legs again I would never take an elevator or escalator again. No matter the situation: I would go every step by myself.”
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