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Fall 2011, Lauren Bowen, Past Students

Recovering from major injury: Attitude can be everything

By Lauren Bowen

Four years ago, just after Christmas, 15-year-old Natalie Buchoz fell during a ski trip and became paralyzed from the shoulders down, because of a spinal cord injury.

“It was overwhelming, like living a nightmare where you cannot get out of it… with zero light at the end of the tunnel, ” Natalie’s mother, Nancy Buchoz, said. “I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I fell to one knee, gasped for air, stood up and shook my head to say ‘no’. It was just the worst mental pain you could imagine.”

After the accident, doctors told the Buchoz family that Natalie would never recover and she would be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Instead of just accepting the doctor’s assessment, Natalie channeled her energy into her recovery. After going through traditional physical therapy and seeing little results the Buchoz’s found Project Walk, in Carlsbad.

Project Walk is a highly specialized rehabilitation center for people who have suffered from a spinal chord injury. Patients come from around the world to work with their specialists to regain the function they had previous to their accident.

Natalie concentrates while working her core muscles during a therapy session at Project Walk. Photograph by: The Huntington Beach Independent

Now, at the age of 19, just four years after her accident, Natalie has made tremendous strides in her recovery. She is now able to walk with a walker and has regained substantial function throughout her body.

“Every day it’s been hard, and it’s been a struggle, but I see other people around me who wish they could be where I’m at, I just think about how lucky I am and don’t take anything for granted,” Natalie said.

One key element in Natalie’s recovery is what her family and friends like to refer to as her “Nattitude”.

“Natalie epitomizes the saying, ‘Never say never,’” her mother said. “She has always been a pleasant, upbeat person, but now she is more compassionate, and very aware of others and their needs. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and always finds the silver lining, no matter what.”

Natalie’s positive attitude has not only helped to motivate her in her recovery on a daily basis, but she has helped to inspire others.

“Her personality is so full of positivity it absolutely changes those around her and helps others feel that all things are possible,” her mother said.

The power of positive thinking in recovery

“Natalie seems to find the good in almost everything, and for the even the most able bodied person that can be difficult,” Nancy said. “She has given countless others the hope and inspiration necessary to recover and live a good life.”

Research has found that having a positive attitude and strong mental awareness is essential in an individual’s recovery, whether it be from a physical or mental injury.

“An individual’s attitude and emotional state plays a crucial role in his or her rehabilitation. The mind is such a powerful thing and I believe that one’s emotions can strongly affect their road to recovery,” said Kassie Lam, a physical therapist.

While the idea, and often times the process, of rehabilitation is similar, the journey that leads to a person’s recovery can vary dramatically.

Scott’s trials in recovery

Scott Smith, now 52 years old, fell from a two-story roof and landed on his head 14 years ago. Scott lost more than half of his brain function after the fall and had to go through rehab to relearn everything he once knew. Although Scott has gone through years of mental and physical rehabilitation, he has never truly recovered.

“It’s hard. My head, it’s broken,” he said.

Not only did Smith have to learn how to mentally process information, he also had to learn how to eat, talk and walk all over again, at the age of 38. During Smith’s recovery period he suffered from multiple seizures throughout the years that set him back to a point that was even worse than after the original accident.

Scott listening to his father explain his accident

After his second seizure he became a quadriplegic, but was able to fight back to the point that he is able to walk on his own, but does not have much function in his arms.

Research has shown that individual’s who suffer from a brain injuries often have a difficult time keeping a positive attitude, and his family says that this has been the case for Scott.

“Traumatic injuries not only affect the individual, they impact the entire family and everyone involved,” Lam said.

Scott’s perspective of what happened to him has been difficult for not only him, but his family as well, ultimately hindering his efforts to get better. Smith has seen little in the way of recovery, and those around him believe that his attitude is partly responsible.

“Scott died on the day of the accident. The person he was has been taken from us, and now we have the shell of who Scott used to be,” Scott’s brother, Steven Bowen, said.

How negativity hinders recovery

Every person’s story is unique and their recoveries can vary drastically, but many cases can show just how greatly attitude has an impact on the extent of rehabilitation.

Support from family and loved ones, and a positive attitude combined with rehabilitation and therapy seems to be the best route to recovery.



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