01/02/05 — Libby Braswell makes adjustments

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Libby Braswell makes adjustments

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 2, 2005 2:03 AM

This is "Libby time."

That's what Libby Braswell calls the current crossroads of her life. But while that could sound selfish to some, for the 33-year-old woman whose life was nearly taken in a car accident, it is a matter of necessity.

She said she was fiercely independent before the night of March 4, 2003. Returning home from her parents' near Princeton, it started to rain. She said she took her eyes off the road briefly and lost control of her Explorer Sport. She was not wearing a seatbelt, so when the vehicle flipped over several times, she was propelled from the back of the truck into the air. She landed on top of a fallen telephone pole and broke her back.

She underwent a six-hour surgery the next day at Wayne Memorial Hospital and was hospitalized for 10 days. Over the next month, she was given physical therapy at Wake Medical Hospital in Raleigh.

Doctors predicted early on that she would not walk again, but she holds onto the belief that one day she will. She relies on a wheelchair for outings that require a lot of walking, but otherwise can use a walker.

Her life for nearly two years has been one of adjustments. She has not worked since the accident, but credits her former place of employment, Security Storage, with keeping up her insurance until she made the decision not to return in October, 2003.

She no longer has health insurance and says she will not qualify for Medicaid until September of 2005, when she would have been on disability for two years.

"I'm on a budget," she says. "I think by the end of April, I will have all my medical bills paid off."

She returned to school last January, taking classes in information systems and network administration at Wayne Community College. With two semesters under her belt and a 4.0 grade-point average, she says she hopes to graduate in the spring of 2006.

In September, she moved back home with her parents after she and her fiancé broke off their engagement. They had originally planned to get married in November 2003 but postponed it after the accident because Ms. Braswell wanted to wait until she could walk down the aisle.

"It's been hard," she said while choking back tears. "I just don't think he could deal with it."

She admits she has been discouraged, even depressed at times. But with the help of her parents, Faye and Earl Braswell, and several supportive friends, continues to get her life back on track.

"I'm at a point in my life where I'm focusing on me," she said. "I'm going to the gym, losing weight, going to school."

Her father has faithfully transported her to school. In March, one year after the wreck, she taught herself to drive again and is in the process of getting a wheelchair lift for a Jeep Cherokee she bought.

She recently received a nice gift in the form of regaining some feeling on the inside of her calves.

After the wreck, she said, she had no feeling from the knees down. Her mother says it is ironic that her daughter can go about 50 feet with a walker and yet can't feel her feet.

Since starting to train at a new gym in September, expanding her workout from three days a week to six, Ms. Braswell credits the cardiovascular exercises with stimulating the nerves.

"A month and a half ago, I was exercising and thought, 'I can feel my pants rubbing my legs,' and it just stayed," she said. "Most times I have feelings that come and go."

She exercises an average of an hour or more each session at Iron Eagle Gym in the Rosewood area. Even though she sees progress, she says there are some days she does not wake up in the mood to go.

Her trainer, owner Jim Carr, gives her more credit. When he heard about her situation, he says he felt compelled to encourage her. He invited her to the gym and designed the combination resistance and cardiovascular program she now follows.

"I think we're seeing improvements far beyond what the medical community would have thought," he said. "She's far more advanced at this stage than I thought we would be."

He said Ms. Braswell is doing exercises and weight training that people without spinal injuries would struggle to do. As a result, she has lost 17 pounds and 20 inches since September.

"She's one of the best I have ever seen at motivating herself," he said. "She's also a lot of inspiration to members of the gym."

Carr said he knew Ms. Braswell's ultimate goal was to walk again. His goal has been to make life easier for her.

"I wanted to help make her weight less and her size less so that if she never did walk again, her quality of life would be better," he said. "Her goal was to go beyond that."

Put simply, Ms. Braswell said, "I wanted my life back.

"My goal is to get out of the wheelchair by next year."

Faye Braswell says she and her husband don't mind taking care of their daughter and credit Libby with working hard to be self-sufficient.

"She could have sit down and done nothing," she said. "But she's going on with her life."

People all over the world prayed for the young woman, Faye Braswell said.

"We are so proud of her," she said. "I give 100 percent credit to the Lord.

"We know in our hearts there was a reason she lived."