Elizabeth Shanks, 43
Car accident 23 years ago:
“I make cupcakes on my anniversary and celebrate it as a new birthdate.”
Anniversary date: March 3
At 20, Elizabeth Shanks, from Niles, Ohio, was riding with a friend when the car in front of them braked suddenly. They skidded on black ice, her friend lost control and hit a telephone pole. Following emergency surgery for a T12 SCI and rehab, she was discharged to her home, where she lived with her mother and stepdad.
Always an outdoorsy girl, she found that wearing a back brace and sitting inside all day did not suit her. “It took a while to get a ramp built and I didn’t have a car or know how to drive with hand controls. The ambulette driver who drove me to outpatient rehab had to come inside and help me out.”
Over the next two years she took college classes and a secretarial program. Then she met Jack. “He came walking up wearing a cowboy hat, boots and a duster.” Not being shy (she rode a hot pink wheelchair), she asked him out. Twenty years later, they are still together, 16 years married.
At 30, she went off the pill, thinking it was time to start a family, but nothing happened. “I was starting to think I might not be able to have a baby.” Then — surprise! — she conceived when she was 37. All went well until her eighth month, when she got a UTI. Docs treated it but it returned and spread to her kidney. Then she became septic. “If I had known how much danger I was in, I would have been very worried.”
Doctors did a C-section and baby Justin entered the world after seven years of trying. On her next SCI anniversary following his birthday, she decided to go beyond her usual celebration routine of making cupcakes at home. “We went out to eat and I had my favorite seafood dinner,” she says.
Today, not only is she a wife, a mom, and an 18-year employee of Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital, she is still that country girl. “I drive an Arctic Cat four-wheeler, hunt deer, pheasant, turkey and duck, and ride horses for therapy.” She also likes to go handcycling with Justin. When March 3 rolls around, she’ll be busy in the kitchen making cupcakes. And maybe have a shot or two of Wild Turkey. “I’m lucky to be alive,” she says.