“Marka Danielle is an artist, mother, former fire fighter and hero. I have been inspired by her for 14 years, and I am so honored to share her story, in her words, on my site. This is her first time sharing this much in one article, so enjoy & feel inspired by this truly triumphant woman”
When I was 31, an event took place that caused me to have to change directions due to the lack of health care in the US for people with pre-existing conditions. I had returned to the United States and moved to Charleston where my parents had relocated, in order to get “better health care”. As it turned out, I had to get a job with group health insurance because there was NO health care available in this country for my needs. What started out as a joke became a reality and I became a female firefighter and EMT to fill a spot that the government’s “affirmative action” plan had made available. They needed a female firefighter to fill the quota! Who would have ever thought? As it turned out, I loved the job! It was like playing a role in another theater production and I loved the physicality of it.
Mostly I liked the Emergency Medicine side of Emergency Services so I went to work for Charleston County EMS and began prepping for paramedic school. Part of my Dance education included Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology and Pedagogy, in order to train dancers (and non-dancers) to be HEALTHIER of body and mind, so emergency medicine seemed like a good fit.
“I was lucky that it was an “incomplete” injury”
In 1994, I suffered a cervical spinal cord injury, C4-6, that should have left me paralyzed from the shoulders down. I was lucky that it was an “incomplete” injury so I began to use my “movement therapy” program, Ultimate Physicality, as my rehabilitation. That became my personal “Saving Grace” and kept me out of a wheelchair. In 2001, I was invited to teach this technique at the Medical University of SC’s Wellness Center and other dance and fitness studios. I also became the artistic director of a local dance company in Charleston. During that time I became a Personal Trainer and a Corrective Exercise Specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine to further my knowledge.
In 2012, while driving home from teaching, I was t-boned by a driver who ran a red light and I suffered a second SCI, above and below the original surgical site, that did leave me immobile from the shoulders down. I spent nearly 2 months at an inpatient facility, Roper Rehabilitation Hospital, and once again used the theories of the “UP” program along with tradition physical therapy to see what I could regain.
I had, and still have, an amazing rehab team. No one ever made me feel that I couldn’t regain some function, although no one really had high hopes. Again it was an incomplete injury which can mean different things to each patient. I worked hard, and little by little, things started to “click”. After leaving in-patient therapy I started out-patient therapy 3 days a week and to this day I still do at least one day a week of traditional therapy at my rehab hospital. On June 12, 2018 it will be 6 years and I have accomplished so much!
“I was the first paralyzed person to do anything like this!”
I am still a full-time wheelchair user but I push a manual chair. I have neurological issues common for quadriplegia, weakness below the level of injury, challenges with breathing and swallowing, weak arms, and hands, trunk and even some bowel and bladder issues along with very challenged and weak leg movement, BUT, I manage all very well. I was able to start using some very special mechanical leg braces that allow me to stand and even walk in 2015 and in April of 2016 I walked in, and finished, one of the largest 10k races in the country, The Cooper River Bridge Run. I was the first paralyzed person to do anything like this! Two years later I still use the braces for exercise and basic things at home like cooking and doing laundry. I also use the braces to raise awareness of all things possible for people like me and to get insurance to pay for equipment like my braces, which they refused to pay for! #posABLE is just one of my favorite hashtags.
I incorporated Yoga into my rehab almost immediately, doing breathing exercises and meditations and then as soon as I could get in and out of my wheelchair and onto the floor, I began by lying on the floor and “playing” with my body, trying to move whatever I could until I found ways get it done. It’s really kind of crazy to see how far I’ve come. Modern medicine believes that after an injury, you only have 12-18 months to regain function. I am living proof that hard work and perseverance can change that outcome, IF it is an incomplete injury!
I can’t lie and say it’s been easy. It’s a bear of a life! The physical battles are hard and the psychological ones, sometimes harder. This world isn’t friendly to those with disabilities and we have to work hard each day to get by! Financially it’s a huge burden as well as dealing with medical care, trying to get out into society, finding jobs, etc. Even going to the grocery store IF you have transportation, is a process not for the weak of spirit! BUT…
“He was my reason for fighting”
From the moment I realized what had happened to me the second time, I knew I had to “fight” again. My son was 5 years old when I had my first accident. I was a single mom and he was my reason for fighting so hard to recover. My son was also my reason the second time around. I raised him to always work hard to be the best he could be given what he had at the time. How could I do anything differently? Even after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2014 while training for the Bridge Run, yep, that too, I couldn’t give UP! I had surgery, did chemo and radiation and now am cancer free!
My parents and my Ballet training were strict and taught me to “Never give UP”, to fight, to be tough, like the story “The Little Engine that Could” and the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” that kept going UP the water spout after the rain. My sister calls me the “Itsy Bitsy Choo Choo”! SO, I did! Of course there are days that I am tired, exhausted even and I think to myself, “Do I have to do this another day?” The answer is always a resounding “YES”!
UP! Ultimate Physicality
As of this writing, I still rehab and/or work out daily. I do what I can, wherever I can, in a gym, in a pool, (with help), but mostly at home or in a dance studio. For the last 2 years I have walked in The James Island Connector Run, a 5k race for a local foundation that raises funds for college scholarships for students with physical disabilities and I will continue to do this as long as I can. (no more 10ks for me. It’s just too hard on my body). I also work as a Peer Mentor for other SCI patients and continue to teach Ballet and Ultimate Physicality at 2 local dance studios. I do different adaptive sports with our local Paralympic Sports Club, Adaptive Expeditions, and try to enjoy every day as if it were my last. Each day brings new opportunities and I don’t want to miss a single one!
Dance was always my first love and passion and so I have taken that passion for dance to a whole new level. I learned about wheelchair and integrative dance and I have performed in several performances in and around South Carolina and I’ll continue to do this and teach as long as I can for anyone who wants to watch and/or learn.
“I managed to stand without my braces”
June 12, 2018
I am in the process of getting a service dog to help make my day to day life easier. I love to travel and I visit my son in New York at least twice a year and family in Baltimore. I drive a wheelchair accessible van with hand controls and look forward to future trips to anywhere I can travel. On the top of my bucket list is to visit The Parthenon in Greece. Of course the goal is to walk to that beautiful landmark but I’m still working on that. This week, in rehab, I managed to stand without my braces for 30 seconds. It’s not functional movement but it’s new strength and new neurons working together to create new movement!
More than anything I hope there is some reason for my “crazy life” and the turmoil I have lived through, that I can share the message that SCI (or other physical challenges) doesn’t mean life as you knew it has ended, it just means the journey has changed directions.
Healthy Meal To Cook: BIG Salads, especially Greek with a healthy grilled protein. I tried vegan for a while years ago but I like meat, chicken, fish and cheese too much. I also LOVE bone broth, (Jewish penicillin) which I drink almost daily.
Cheat Meal: PIZZA or a “healthy” meat cheeseburger and fries.
Exercises: ANYTHING I can but mostly ballet based and yoga type and walking in #MyPurpleLegs (the leg braces)
Music: I love most music but I have an affinity for Old Folk tunes, Arlo and Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Kingston Trio, etc. as well as the Beatles, Queen, etc and newer music like ColdPlay, Ed Sheeren, etc.
TV Shows: My old Fav was I Love Lucy but I love new things like Sense8 and The HandMaid’s Tail