Family life in a wheelchair

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When Annette Ross gave birth to her second daughter in 1999, she knew her life was about to change. But she didn’t know quite how much. An epidural gone wrong left Annette finding the simplest things in life – getting up, going to the bathroom – the hardest to do. More than anything, she was most frightened about being defined by her disability rather than as who she knows herself to be: a wife, a mother, a bioethics researcher. Now a proud mother of five, Annette keeps her hope that science will one day give her the greatest gift.

Your are a very positive person. How long did it take you to come to terms with your injury?
It has been a long process, and I often wonder if I have come to terms with it, or if that is possible. I think I am there, and then something happens to remind me that I now live with a disability. A person is not suddenly blessed with the ability to handle such life-altering events well. I was fortunate in that I am naturally positive. I have always been resilient, and I strongly believe in love. Love helps me maintain a broader perspective.

You´ve been living with spinal cord injury a long time - does it get any easier?
I would like to answer yes to that question. The truth for me is while certain things are easier, other aspects of life are more difficult. As I get older, I suffer more secondary issues, for example compromised bone density. Many of us with SCI learn to navigate our world early on; getting around becomes less challenging, even seamless, yet our bodies do not handle the ravages of time as well.

What advice would you give to someone who has just suffered a spinal cord injury?
Not to succumb to despair, and this is more difficult than it sounds. Just when you think you have figured out your new world, other challenges will present, and life does this whether or not you function from a wheelchair. People will sometimes react differently to someone with a disability. My self-dignity has not changed. I would add that you should try to surround yourself with those who see you as no less than what you are: a whole person who has the right to live their dreams to the fullest ... whatever they may be. 

How do your husband and girls support you?
The world can be a harsh place, but Bill and the girls are constant reminders that I have worth and purpose. Never once did Bill make me feel less than the woman he chose to marry. It is not only that they are helpful, or that I believe the girls have witnessed an important aspect of human life – they know that love and sacrifice can indeed save a person. 

You are a proud mother to five young ladies - what´s life like in the Ross household?
It is fairly chaotic. Georgia, is two now, and Natalie, our oldest, is 17. There is never a dull moment, from diaper changes and mornings at the park to prom dates, homework and soccer practices. Our life is nonstop, but we relish the noise and lively atmosphere. I don’t know what we would do in a quiet house … although it might be nice to have for a night! 

Do you think being a mother has helped you come to terms with your injury?    
There are many parts of motherhood that were made more difficult by my injury, and some that even haunted me. But I tried to focus on the needs of our children, and not solely on my own grief or pain. Attending to their needs brought me out of myself, and this positive distraction was very good. In time I learned that what I have to offer has nothing to do with my legs.

What is it about research projects and clinical trials that gives you hope?
Research that results in a cure gives me hope because I believe it to be real. I know progress has been made with technology. There are new devices to help us ambulate. This bolsters the community while we wait, but does not replace the value of using your limbs as they were designed to be used.
Scientific research has a course it must take to ensure patient safety. Research takes its own time, and that can be frustrating. Recently I was speaking with a doctor who explained to me just how close the dream has become. I left the party we were at and said to my husband, “Bill it is really happening.” The vision of us taking a walk is ever present in my mind. I am thankful each day to those I don’t even know who work tirelessly to make our dream come true.

What does it mean to you that so many people worldwide are taking part in the Wings for Life World Run at May 8th?
I consider Wings for Life a partner. They champion the cause for all of us by keeping SCI relevant in the hearts and minds of so many people. It is not only very touching to have participants from all over the world, but also quite important. It shows a coming together for a common good, and an understanding that a cure will better the lives for millions of people. It is hard to express what it would mean for even one person who has not walked to walk again. There are no adequate words for me; to say it is a dream, is not nearly enough. We need everyone who cares to care passionately. In my mind the more people we get together brings the reality that much closer.

Everyone, everywhere can help get Annette and millions like her one step closer to walk again. By signing up for a location, taking part as a Selfie Runner using the Wings for Life World Run app or by setting up a fundraising campaign.

100% of every entry fee and donation goes directly to spinal cord research focussed on finding a cure for spinal cord injury.