On September 3, 1993 I broke my neck in a jeep accident at the age of 16 and in the blink of an eye my entire life changed. I left my house that Friday night in New Jersey in a car with friends and awoke a month later, trapped in a body that I didn’t know, in the intensive care unit of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. My family was put in contact with Fran Brown through a mutual friend whose brother, Jamie Clare, had sustained a spinal cord injury. Jamie Clare, who had also become paralyzed and was helped by the Foundation, and Mr. and Mrs. Brown, gave my parents the support that did not exist anywhere else. I cannot imagine what my parents must have been going through at that point, but talking to the Clare Family and Fran, they knew they were not alone.
I have now been a part of the Foundation for 19 years and they are my family. Unless you go through this injury personally, as a family member, sibling, or a spouse, you will never truly be able to understand how much of you is lost. Not just physically; but emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially. Everything completely changes and you simply cannot breathe from being so overwhelmed. The Foundation helped me through my darkest of days. Through high school, college, graduate school, ATBF was my support system providing connections, reference letters, and valued opinions. Through every bump I hit along the way, they gave me the courage to continue.
I am now the Director of Disability Education at Ramapo College. For the spinally injured, I am a proud member of ATBF’s Outreach and Peer Mentoring Program. I give back to the disabled community because I learned the importance of reaching out and helping others. The one thing that I am most grateful for is that the Brown Family and the members of this Foundation helped me to fall in love again…with myself…and the woman that I have become. That, second only to one day being able to walk again, is something that I never thought I would be able to say.
Michele is the Director of Disability Education at Ramapo College. She is an active member of the ATBF family, contributing her ideas, advice and time to ATBF’s many fundraisers and mentoring program.