Fighting Paralysis With Joy: A Message From Heather Johnson On How To Lead A Positive Life


Hello everyone! From this year I have started this page where, every month, I will host an interview or journey of a common person with an extraordinary story of struggle, inspiration and motivation. The sole motive of such interviews and stories is to help people with similar struggles, come out of their frustration and lead a better life. These real life heroes will show you what actual struggle is and how to face life with a never-say-die attitude.
So to start this series, this week I have with me is a very special friend with an indomitable patience and desire to lead a positive and better life amidst various adversities. While a lot of people like you and me feel frustrated with little bruises and health issues, here is this brave lady who has been battling the pain of paralysis for the last 12 years with a smile in her face and heaps of positivity in her life.

1) Hello Heather, a warm welcome to my blog! We are eager to know about your story. So let us start the interview with a brief introduction of yours!

Hello Tuhin, thank you for having me here!
Hi everyone, my name is Heather and I live in the USA. In 2003, I was 19 years old and had just started nursing school. I absolutely loved it, and was excited about what my future held. On the morning of Monday, November 17, 2003, I woke up early because I had to report to the nursing home where I’d been assigned to do my nursing clinicals at 6 AM. For the next six hours I helped care for the elderly residents in the nursing home, and practiced the skills I’d been learning in school.
I was released from the nursing home at noon, and I went out to the parking lot and got in my car. The remainder of my day would be just as busy as my morning had been. I had to take a final exam at school, then I’d head to the hospital for a routine physical (a preliminary requirement, since I’d just been hired as a nurse’s aide), and then I’d finish my day by working an 8-hour shift at the movie theater where I worked as an assistant manager. I didn’t get to do any of these things, however, because I was in a car accident just a few minutes after leaving the nursing home.

“The force of the impact was so severe that my head swung to the right, breaking my neck at the second cervical level leaving me paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe on my own”

I pulled up to an intersection and stopped at a red light. I was the first car in line, and when the light turned green, I started into the intersection. A second or two later, a car ran a red light and struck my car on the driver’s side going approximately 50 mph (roughly 80 kph). The force of the impact was so severe that my head swung to the right, breaking my neck at the second cervical level in what is known as a “hangman’s fracture,” leaving me paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe on my own.
To sum things up, I’ve been totally paralyzed for more than 12 years. I am dependent on others for all of my physical needs, as I cannot dress, bathe, or even feed myself. Although becoming disabled in the prime of my life hasn’t been easy, I’ve managed to stay positive and find fulfillment in a life that most people would find undesirable.

inspirational real life story
              Heather’s car after the accident

2) Can you recall any incident which broke you down? And what motivated you to fight back?

I can’t recall any specific things that made me break down, necessarily, but there were definitely times (especially in the beginning) that I cried tears of frustration and disappointment. I really missed looking and feeling normal, especially at first. I hated seeing myself in the mirror because I felt so ugly, and I looked so broken, fragile and different than the way I had before the accident. As trivial and superficial as it sounds, it was hard to not be able to do my own hair and makeup, and make myself look the way I always had.
One of my biggest hopes and dreams for my life had always been to get married and have kids. Realizing that there was a high probability that I would never have these opportunities was very difficult. I eventually came to terms with these losses, and was able to move past them. It’s still disappointing, but it doesn’t bother me anymore like it used to.

real life heroes
Surrounded by 6 sisters, on the 10th day after the accident

3) I can understand how tough it might have been for you to cope up with these sorrows. Despite your challenging life what actually has enabled you to carry on with positivity and joy?

My faith is what has carried me through this challenging circumstance. I have always believed in God and in His son, Jesus Christ, but my knowledge of this is so much deeper now. I know God knows me and I know He has a plan for my life, which included becoming paralyzed. I’m not sure of everything my future holds, but there must be some reason that this was God’s plan for my life, and I’m determined to do my best to lead the best life I can.

“I would never take back my accident even if I could, if it meant that I wouldn’t have progressed as far and learned all that I have…”

4) A lot of people would have surrendered in such circumstances. But I am glad you didn’t! What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your disability?

Some may ask, “Why would a loving God let terrible things happen to His children?” I’ve found that there is much to learn from adversity. C. S. Lewis said, “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” And Thomas S. Monson said, “Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress.” I’m a far better person now than I was prior to my accident, and for that reason I would never take back my accident even if I could, if it meant that I wouldn’t have progressed as far and learned all that I have. I’ve gained much more than I lost, and I’ve improved in ways that I wouldn’t have, if it weren’t for becoming paralyzed.

5) Wow! Hats off to your positive attitude toward life! I see you run a blog too. Please tell us something about “Paralyzed with Joy”

When I first started my blog, it was just a way for my family and friends to keep up with what was going on in my life. Then I started writing about my accident and journey with becoming paralyzed. I made a lot of FAQ-type posts to answer questions about paralysis (especially things that people might be curious about, but not feel comfortable asking). I also started making posts with some of the lessons that being paralyzed has taught me, in order to encourage people that may also be dealing with challenges in their lives.

6) Great! You are surely helping others by these resources. Now, it is definitely not possible to survive such a mental, physical and psychological pressure alone. How supportive were your parents throughout these years?

My dad died of pancreatic cancer in 1999, so he was already gone when I became paralyzed. My mom has been wonderfully supportive, and has been by my side since day one. My mom is my main caregiver and does the majority of my personal care each day. She is usually the one “on duty” when it comes to looking after me, and she gets very few breaks. I don’t know what I would do without her, and her willingness to care for me. She is my best friend and even though we don’t have the kind of life most people have, we have a lot of fun together and enjoy being with each other.

Heather with her mother, Diane

7) 10 years down the line, where do you see yourself?

This is a tough question, because you never know what may come along in life. After all, I certainly never expected to be in an accident and become paralyzed at the age of 19. And since I’m paralyzed, a lot of the normal goals or milestones that an average adult pursues and achieves don’t really apply to me. But as long as my health holds out, I assume I will be in the same place, doing the same thing(s) in 10 years.

7) Soon after a serious accident people lose hope and their desire to live. Any advice for them on how to face struggles in life?

After a serious accident, you have two choices: you can choose to be bitter, or you can choose to be happy. There are always things to be happy about and grateful for, no matter how small. Jeffrey R. Holland said it best when he said, “Let us remember that through any illness or difficult challenge, there is still much in life to be hopeful about and grateful for. We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions!” I always try to be positive, even though I’m in a lot of pain each day, and even though my life hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would. Choosing to be happy isn’t always easy, but as long as you are trying to be positive, that’s what is important.

8) Again, a good advice. Lastly, if you were to give a positive and motivating message from your life, what would that be?

Be happy. Ease your sorrow and frustrations by reaching out to serve others. Remember that God loves you and has a plan for your life. Choose joy. Never give up, no matter how bad things seem!
Thank you very much Heather, for sharing your journey with us. This interview will remain incomplete if I do not thank your mother for being your support system. She has shown exceptional strength and endurance throughout this journey. Please convey my good wishes to her. May God bring lots of smiles and happiness to both of you!
In our daily life we do not think twice before cursing life and venting our frustrations at the almighty for silliest reasons. I hope this interview will motivate people who are undergoing any emotional, physical and/or psychological disturbance in their life.
Do share your views regarding this post and If you think the story of your life can inspire people feel free to let me know. I will be happy to share your experiences in my blog.
Real life heroes

About Heather

Blessed with a loving and supportive family of six sisters and 24 nieces and nephews, Heather, 31, lives with her mom, who has played the role of a mother, a mentor, a motivator and a best friend over the years. Heather loves blogging and making people realize the importance of living a positive life. Thanks to the assistive technology that enables her to work on the computer despite not being able to use her arms and hands. The best thing about her is that even after a total paralysis, she is thankful to God for this life and enjoys every single day with a smile.

Don’t forget to visit her blog at  paralysed with joy

You can contact her at: 

A positive living and self development blogger and motivator.
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2 thoughts on “Fighting Paralysis With Joy: A Message From Heather Johnson On How To Lead A Positive Life

  1. God works in such mysterious ways. This is a truly inspirational life story and praise God that Heather talks about it with such joy. I could feel it as I was in particular reading, “I would never take back my accident even if I could, if it meant that I wouldn’t have progressed as far and learned all that I have…” Thank you for introducing us to her Tuhin.

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