Photo by Layna Hendrich of PhotographyLayn

Saturday, August 10, 2013

An Accident

The question that I get asked the most is, "What happened to you- why are you in a wheelchair?" Depending on the person, my mood, the weather, and many other variables, the answer usually goes something like this: "I was in a ranching accident." Or "I fell off of a hay rack and landed on the handle of a pitchfork." I prefer the second answer, because it always gets the best reaction, but it also opens up the door for more inquiries. Most of the time I don't mind answering questions, but every once in a while I am tempted to make up an even crazier, more dramatic story about my accident.

One year at church camp, my sister decided to beat everyone to the punch, and started spreading two very different stories about what had happened to her big sister. After a few days she had half of the camp believing she had shot me, and the other half convinced that she had hit me with a car. You have to know my sister to see her personality behind this- I love her sense of humor...

It's funny how facts can get discombobulated when a story begins to spread. People heard I was injured by a bear, by a bull, by a fall from a horse; one story even had me falling out of a cabin bunk while reading my Bible! I suppose when people hear "Wyoming" and "ranching accident," their imaginations can get the best of them and run totally amuck. So let me tell you the REAL story...

Have you ever been somewhere that just felt like home? As if you had waited your entire life to be in that place and wanted to remain forever? To me, that place is Wyoming. I dreamed of it long before my first visit as a teen on a family vacation. The mountains, horses, fresh air, and laid back way of life were appealing even then, and continue to inspire me on a daily basis.

When I learned of the opportunity to attend a camp at a ranch in Wyoming, I started saving my money right away. It was well worth it. Those two weeks were an amazing experience for a fifteen year old girl, and I vowed to return at the next possible opportunity. The following year, the camp was opened for a three-week session, and I made my reservations. Little did I know that this trip would be different than the previous adventures, and that it would change my life forever.

On Monday, August 2, 1999, I woke up early to complete my chores before leaving for a backpacking trip in the mountains. I walked down to the corrals, climbed up onto the hay rack, and began pitching feed to the livestock below. As I broke open a bale of hay, a flake fell to the side. I leaned over to grab the piece with my pitchfork and lost my balance. As I began to fall, my last thought was, “Throw the pitchfork.”

The next thing I remember is waking up. I tried to get up and could not move the lower half of my body. I assumed a bale of hay had fallen on me, or that one of the steers had gotten loose and was standing on me. Then I noticed the pitchfork handle under my back. Although I had flung the implement, I had hit my head on the way down and had been thrown out onto the fallen, wooden handle. Like a giant “T,” I was laying flat directly on the tool.  I was not impaled, but the pitchfork had still done its damage. I noticed a strange tingling in my legs and back, with no pain, but with no movement or control. I began to yell for help.

The next hours and days are a blur to me. I was taken to the local hospital and stabilized before being airlifted to another facility in Montana. My parents, at home in Indiana, were notified of my accident and began to make arrangements to meet me in Montana. They were told that I had broken my back and that I was experiencing some paralysis. Beyond that, information was sketchy at best. They approved my initial surgery over the phone and were able to arrive at the hospital by Monday evening.

Where I landed on the handle of the pitchfork, it had shattered my T-12 vertebrae. If you follow your last rib around to your back, it connects to your vertebral column at T-12. This burst fracture had blown fragments of bone out into surrounding tissue and badly smashed my spinal cord, although it was not severed, nor had I lost any spinal fluid- it was an incomplete SCI. My first two surgeries removed the fragments and rebuilt my vertebrae with pieces of bone taken from grafts of my hip and pelvis. Metal plates and screws were inserted to stabilize the injury site.

My paralysis began right below my belly button and circled around to my back. I could still feel a tingling sensation in my legs, but I had no movement or control. The doctors told us I had a 50-50 chance of regaining my sensation over the next two years. After that, the odds dropped substantially. A wheelchair was introduced and I began learning how much I would rely on a hunk of metal for survival. I remained in Montana for therapy for the next month, and then returned to Indiana to continue therapy and attempt to adjust to my new life.

An accident. When my toddler does something wrong, her new favorite excuse is, "It was an accident!" Usually this phrase is used when something happens unintentionally, or in my daughter's case, when one doesn't want the blame for an event. So when I talk about my injury, I refer to it as "my accident." Yes, it was a traumatic, unexpected mishap. It wasn't intended on my part. But God doesn't make accidents. He never moves without a purpose. He doesn't make mistakes.

This truth might make some people bitter; that God intentionally allowed something hurtful to happen to them. I struggled with this way of thought for some time after I was injured. Why would He let this happen? I was a "good" girl and I didn't deserve to be in a wheelchair. But in my darkest hours, I learned something life-changing. God means everything to happen for my good.

At our Wednesday night Bible study this week, our Pastor talked about how, during times of distress, people often quote Romans 8:28. Although this is a popular verse when someone is hurting, it is often used out of context.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

All things work together for good. But what is the good? That I walk again? That I inspire people? That I see my name in the newspaper or my face on television?

The answer can be found by finishing the chapter. It talks about God's love and His salvation to all who believe. Anything that happens in our lives, good or bad, is for the furtherance of the Gospel. And that includes my accident.

And that, to me, makes it all worth it. Yes, I have days when I get tired of this broken body. I have days when my attitude is anything but grateful. I even have days where this truth is not enough for my human, hurting heart. But in the end, I know that I serve a God who loves me, who gave everything for me, and who seeks to use me in ways I could never imagine.

For the good.

For His good.

To bring others to Him.

My accident was no accident.


  1. Awesome post! So lucky to have met you, Ashly

    1. Thank you, Christy! So glad to have met you as well! I love your blog- keep writing!

  2. Thank you for your writing, it was an incredible blessing to me. I too was in my own "accident" with my car in 2010 almost 3 months after my marriage. I suffered many broken bones including my neck and back. As I laid in my coma for the 10th day my husband was advised that he should strongly consider pulling my plug because I wouldn't have much if any "quality of life" but my husband decided that if he had to bulk up and carry me on his back he wasn't going to give up on my life. I ended up spending half a year in a wheelchair but praise the Lord through my therapy I have been able to regain strength and re;earned how to walk.
    Praise the Lord he has done so much in the past three 3 years since my auto accident and has grown me incredibly in Him. I thank you for sharing with everyone about all the Lord has been doing in your life. You are a great blessing. Keep on living on the positive, brighter side...the Lord's side.

    1. Thank you so much, Ashley! What a wonderful blessing to hear your story- praise the Lord for his goodness and healing in your life! Your kind words mean so much!

  3. I know what you mean, Ashlee. Stories spread like wildfire, and the worst part is that only a little part of what's spreading is the truth. In any case, I'm sure it's hard to deal with the consistent questions about your paralysis, but you sure are strong for being patient with curious people. I love how positive you are about the whole incident, and you are so inspiring because of that. Thanks for sharing that! Wishing you all the best! :)

    Modesto Culbertson @ D&Z Law Group

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