Husband, wife look forward to new year following car wreck

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FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Fight, Jane, fight. It was a mantra, a hashtag, and a state of mind for almost all of 2015 for Florence native Jane Frith.

Jane and a friend were on their way to meet Jane's husband, Tom, on May 13 when a collision with an 18-wheeler at the intersection of Sixth Street and Gnat Pond Road forced their car into a nearby pond.

Jane doesn't remember anything from the moments before the collision through the next few weeks, she said.

"She was awake and conscious before then, but she doesn't remember most of it from that point," Tom said. "She was so critically injured she was in ICU for 19 days at Huntsville Hospital's trauma center. They saved her life, they really did."

Jane suffered from a variety of injuries, including a broken back, ribs and wrist and a collapsed lung.

"It was really painful, and I didn't want to do anything," she said. "I really hurt. My ribs and stuff, it was so painful, I wasn't sure I wanted to live."

Jane said she could move her upper body, but it was her lower body that was mostly affected from her spinal cord injury.

"I'm paralyzed from the waist down," she said. "However, as I've progressed in healing I can feel, not perfectly, but to the bottom of my rib cage. Which is good, because I'm still healing.

"Being older, with spinal cord injuries — you just never know anyway — but I don't think I'll ever walk again. But I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't get more feeling."

After leaving Huntsville Hospital, Jane, who is a grandmother and former history teacher, went to an acute, long-term care center in Nashville for 11 weeks. In August, she was moved to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

The Shepherd Center is a private, not-for-profit hospital and one of the leading hospitals in the U.S. that specializes in spinal cord and brain injuries, multiple sclerosis and other disabling diseases and injuries.

"That was my goal," she said. "I just kept thinking, 'if I get to Shepherd, I'll be OK. If I get to Shepherd I'll be OK.'

"And I was, it was the perfect place for me."

Toward the end of her stay in Nashville, however, Jane began to dread the ride from Nashville to Atlanta.

"I kept thinking 'what if I'm not good enough? What if I'm not what they really want? What if they're going to be disappointed in how I perform?'" she said. "Then I thought you just can't worry about it. You go and just do what you can do."

Jane said she was different than the majority of patients at the center.

Many were military, there were younger men who had diving accidents, construction workers, athletes, shooting victims.

"I thought I was 150, I was much older than most of the people," she said. "... You have all kinds of people there and all kinds of recoveries and people from all walks of life. It was a melting pot."

It wasn't just the center, however, that gave Jane a fighting chance against her injuries.

A lot of it has to do with Jane's outlook, Tom said.

"She's always been very resilient, very positive and energetic," he said. "Some people, they're going to be strong enough and find a way to get through what they're faced with and make the outcome as positive as it can be. It's the way you impact the people around you. Not just your therapist, but your fellow patients.

"In a place like that, a smile or word of encouragement from the people in therapy with you just goes so far."

Tom recalled a patient at the center by the name of Jeff, who had an auto immune disease that left him severely disabled.

"There are different stages of it, but with Jeff, he almost died," Tom said. "When we first met Jeff he couldn't even get out of bed hardly. He had a trache(ostomy) and you couldn't understand anything he said."

Jane said, "He had tubes everywhere. All kinds of tubes."

Jeff, Tom said, lived in Atlanta and was an outpatient. Even though he was in a wheelchair, Jeff could stand and was put in a machine to walk.

Jeff had a trophy of sorts, a pair of boxing gloves, that is passed on to someone who fights and works hard.

"The week he graduated, he came up to Jane, and Jeff gave Jane the boxing gloves," Tom said. "It was really cool because he told Jane that ever since he came here he had always been inspired by her because she always had a great attitude and he had been inspired by her."

When patients leave Shepherd Center, they receive a diploma. Jane said hers had boxing gloves on it, both representing the award and her fighting spirit.

She compared her time and recovery at Shepherd to having a job.

"You get up in the morning and you go to the gym, and you basically stay there most of the day and then you go back to your room or apartment, wherever you are in your recovery," she said. "They never work you harder than you can work, and if you say 'I'm just worn out, I need to rest,' that's fine they let you.

"They're wonderful. Everyone gets to know everyone, we all work together in the gym, you get a peer support group. And you get to be such good friends, it's great."

In the beginning, Jane said, her grandchildren gave her motivation to keep living and keep working toward recovery.

A registered nurse from Bermuda, however, really touched Jane's life. Jane said the nurse stayed up with her until morning one night talking about life and recovery.

The nurse had served in the military as a non-U.S. citizen and suffered burns during fighting in Libya.

"He kept saying you have so much to live for, you have to keep going," Jane said. "And he was in recovery for two years with his burns and now you can't really tell that he had them except his skin was very shiny. I guess after that I decided I'm going to pull through this.

"Every day so many people say 'how do you do it?' Well, every day you wake up, and you have to do something. You can't just lie there. At least, I chose not to just lie there."

Sometimes it was hard, she said, to see other patients begin to start learning to walk again.

"It was really bittersweet," she said. "So many of the people did start walking in the course of time I was there. It was so good to see that. I wish it had been me; it wasn't. But it was so good to see the people I cared about and spent so much time with begin to walk."

Now, at home in Florence, Jane won't get a chance to step out of the boxing ring.

Life in a wheelchair has been and will continue to be an adjustment.

"You look at someone with a spinal cord injury or someone in a wheelchair and you say 'they can't walk,' and that's true, they can't walk," Tom said. "But there are other things, other ways it affects your system."

Jane says she often feels cold, even when she's not actually cold, because of the signals from her spine.

Everything is harder now, she said. Getting dressed takes more time, reaching drawers, doing daily chores, they all are either more difficult or in some cases out of reach for her.

"It's really hard for me because I was so busy, and I see dust on the floor and I can't do anything about it," she said. "There are so many things I can't do anything about, just things I used to do without even thinking. Even moving my leg, I think I'll kick that door open with my leg and then I remember I can't move my leg."

They did train her for everyday life at Shepherd Center, she said. They went on field trips to museums, grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants. She learned skills she needed to get around, and for the last six weeks of her treatment was in an apartment in Atlanta.

And, she said, she'll continue therapy to help her continue to make strides that will help in everyday activities.

But it was her friends that make being home less difficult.

"I do have pity parties every once in a while, but I've had such good friends and so much support from friends and family," she said.

"Tom has been wonderful. He's been with me almost constantly since my accident. I could never have done it without him."

There is also another fight taking place in the Frith family.

Jane's granddaughter, Evie, was at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis at the time of the interview and the couple had recently returned from visiting with her after a surgery.

"This is far worse," Tom said. "We don't know at this point what the total prognosis is. She's at St. Jude. They removed her right kidney. Hopefully they got it all and we'll find out about that.

"It's like hurry up 2016 we're ready to move forward."

It seems, however, Evie has inherited Jane's fighting spirit.

"The nurses and doctors were just blown away," Tom said. "With kids her age, the doctors and nurses sometimes have to hold them down. But she just meets them straightforward and does whatever they asks her to do.

"A lot of that is she trusts her parents, and she's so loved by so many people."

At St. Jude, they put Evie in a wheelchair to move her around the hospital while Jane and Tom were visiting.

"She said I've got a chair like Jane," Tom said.

"And she said she didn't want to get out of it," Jane added. "I hate for her to go through the pain, that's the worst part. But it's worth it to go through the pain."


Information from: TimesDaily,

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