How we met:
Melissa is persistent, dedicated to listening to her body, and passionate about yoga and living in the moment. She survived a major car accident, back surgery, and so much more. She’s a fighter and an inspiration.
One of my friends directed me to Melissa and we emailed with each other. I’m constantly inspired at the way people lift and encourage each other. Melissa has been such a survivor with all of her medical issues that just hearing her voice through this interview is empowering.
Melissa is Dynamo. She is joining the Carrot Bowl Dynamo community. These are people who daily do their thing and hardly realize they are an example, a powerhouse, and that sharing their story empowers other’s lives. I truly believe that when we listen to each other’s stories, when we let ourselves be affected by them, taking the lessons forward in our own lives, we become better people. We are kinder, more compassionate, and more dedicated to living full and mindful lives. It’s all about how we act with each other. It’s all about fighting hard to keep moving forward, no matter how that looks person to person. Melissa, thank you for sharing your story with us.
Your car accident was 18 years ago, but it has been a part of your daily life since then. What has recovering from this ordeal taught you?
Recovering has taught me the meaning of the word “strength”…both physically and mentally! It has taught me to never give up! It has taught me to get up when I’ve fallen down! It has taught me that I may have to work longer and harder at certain things but ultimately I will succeed and I will be stronger because of it!
Can you tell us all the things your body has gone through because of the car accident?
I broke my pelvis in 3 places and the ribs on the left side of my body. I also had a deep chest wall injury (either from hitting the steering wheel or from the seat belt)!
For the last 18 years (since the accident), I have also lived with chronic lower back pain. I went to physical therapy for a year and then off and on for another 5 years! When I broke down crying in my doctors office from the pain, I was told I was depressed and given a prescription for an anti depressant! I developed severe anxiety and prescribed anti anxiety meds! I thought I was losing my mind…my body was constantly in pain!
About 6 years ago, I started developing severe headaches that would last days at a time (the last one lasted for 27 days straight). I saw a chiropractor for 2 years for neck and back pain and headaches. Just over a year ago, the headaches came back worse than before! Besides the headaches, I developed numbness down the back of my neck, my lower jaw, my left hand and left foot! The middle finger on my left hand started shaking, I went for an MRI and was referred to a pain management doctor! I had 2 cervical epidurals and 2 medial branch nerve blocks without any relief! I was prescribed a narcotic, nerve pain medication and an anti inflammatory…and still wasn’t getting any relief! In fact, I was getting worse! I started getting dizzy and would fall over if I sat up too fast.
After 2 or 3 months of painful injections, I contacted laser spine institute (recommended by a chiropractor friend)! I found out I had 3 disks in my cervical spine that were hitting my spinal cord! I was told I needed an anterior cervical discectomy fusion to stabilize my spine….which involved removing 3 of the disks in my cervical spine and replacing them with my bone, bone from a cadaver and bone compound! It was the first time in 18 years, I felt hope! I opted for the surgery!
On October 30, 2014, I had the first of 2 surgeries on my cervical spine! C5, 6 and 7 were fused and held in place with 2 cages, a plate and six screws! Though my symptoms had improved, I was still in a significant amount of pain. After going thru nerve conductivity testing, another MRI and a selective nerve root branch block, my surgeon determined another operation was necessary to relieve the nerve compression and opening up the narrowing in my spine! On February 13, 2015, I had the second surgery! My surgeon said I will always live with some level of pain and another spinal fusion may be necessary in the future … but I’ll worry about that when the time comes!
Yoga has a special place in your soul…why? What has it taught you or given to you?
Yoga has taught me: to breathe (fully and deeply) into all parts of my body–if I feel pain in my lower back, I’m going to send my breath there…there is something calming about being in control of your breath and body, to be present and stop anticipating/obsessing what is going to happen next (whether it’s the next posture or what I need to do when I leave class), to find comfort in riding the waves of discomfort as that is where the biggest changes occur, and to not compare myself to the person next to me!
You were on track to become a fitness instructor and personal trainer when the accident derailed your plans, how have you made peace with that?
I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. We may not know the reason tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year! I believe I was destined to be in the “helping” profession; however, I was just meant to take a different path! The fall of 1997, I returned to college and changed my major to social work! Less than two years later just prior to graduating from college, I accepted a job (as an adult probation officer) and have encouraged and helped others change their lives.
How has your story inspired others?
I have never thought my story would inspire others but I hope people would be inspired through my perseverance! I didn’t give up when the pain became too much to bear. I pushed through the pain!
What does healthy living mean to you?
Healthy living means committing to and making smart choices for my mind, body and soul right now and for my future!
What are 3 goals you have right now?
1 – To do a handstand (I have a fear of falling on my head)
2 – To lose 20 more pounds (I’ve lost 25)
3 – To eat at least one salad per day!
How did your involvement in fitness prepare you for the recovery you’ve endured?
I was in excellent shape prior to the accident! I ran 4 miles every day in addition to taking aerobics classes and lifting weights! Had I not been in good shape, the recovery would have been more difficult and longer! I was out of bed and walking with a broken pelvis with the assistance of a walker, a harness, a physical therapist and a physical therapist assistant less than 24 hours after the accident.
What is a gift you’ve been given through this challenge?
The ability to listen to my body (do I need to slow down, is what I’m feeling pain or discomfort, do I need to modify what I’m doing) and it’s also given me the ability to empathize with others and what they have gone or are going through!
What is your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate and ice cream! Yum!
Do you have a mantra that you live by or inspires you?
I need constant reminders to slow down and savor the moment that I’m in! My very first yoga instructor would say, “no where to go, nothing to do, just be” at the beginning of each class! Those words have stuck with me and I repeat them to myself at least 5 times per day!
What is your fitness life like currently?
I love taking long walks and hiking but my true passion is yoga! For almost a year, I wasn’t able to practice yoga (pain, surgeries, healing). I started my practice up again in early August! In a typical week, I aim for 6 to 10 yoga classes (yin, slow flow, ashtanga and hot vinyasa).
How has living mindfully, being focused on now, made a difference in your life?
More than anything, being mindful has helped control my anxiety! I used to spend too much time worrying about tomorrow or focusing too much on the past…tomorrow hasn’t even happened yet and yesterday has come and gone!
What do you love about yourself?
I love to laugh and have fun.
Can you tell us 5 of your favorite things?
Yoga, my family and friends, hiking, my fit bit and dogs.
What do you want to be remembered for?
For my smile and for being a loving and caring wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend and mom (to fur babies)!
*This post contains an affiliate link and if you buy something through it I might get a small portion of that purchase.