Editor’s Note: Thirty-one year old Ashley Hutson Wilson from Kyle, Texas, is married to Michael Wilson, and they have three sons – twins, Dominique and Michael, and 4-year-old Christian. Ashley shares below how she built a family and a good life after SCI, thanks to her faith and family support.
On December 2, 2000, my 16-year-old life changed dramatically. I was out late with my teenage boyfriend. We were up to no good and had been drinking. At 5 am, my boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel of the car, and we hit a barrier traveling between 80 and 90 mph. The car flew 180 feet in the air and landed nose first, upside down, on concrete under a bridge. The car was smashed flat like a pancake. I was pinned in the car and unconscious.
I didn’t wake up until I was in the hospital. Later, I learned that the first responders had to use the Jaws of Life to pry the car off me. Then they stabilized me. I was loaded onto a helicopter and flown to University Medical Center Brackenridge – a major trauma hospital in Austin, Texas. The first responders said that they were pretty sure I wouldn’t survive the trip to the hospital. If I survived the trip, there was a good chance I wouldn’t live once I reached the hospital. One of my family members met a firefighter who was part of my rescue team. The firefighter offered his condolences, because he was sure I hadn’t survived.
My boyfriend was able to get out of the car through the sunroof. His skull was split open, he broke his collarbone, and he had numbers of scrapes and scratches to his face and head. When I arrived at the hospital, they said I had injured my spinal cord at C4-C6 and broken my right femur, but I didn’t have any lacerations, scrapes or bruises. When I woke up in the hospital, the nurse said, “You’ve been injured in a car accident, but you’re going to be okay.” The second thing I remember was saying, “My boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel. I’m really sorry, and I need to apologize to my family.”
I woke up as the doctors were putting a halo brace on my head and neck.
Later, I learned that when my family arrived at the hospital, they were told I only had a 5% chance of surviving the accident. They also learned that if I lived through the surgeries the doctors would have to perform, I’d never walk, talk, be able to breathe on my own or have any type of motion.
The doctors said I would be a vegetable the rest of my life and on a ventilator. Basically, I would be a turnip green getting air. They told my parents they had to go ahead and perform the surgeries.
I woke up the next day, but I was in and out of consciousness. I had been heavily sedated, so I was more or less in a fog for about 2 – 3 days. When I finally woke up, I was in the intensive care unit where I stayed for about 6 weeks and at University Medical Center Brackenridge for 2-1/2 months. Then, I was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston – a rehab hospital.
Ashley Wakes Up to a New Reality
As I regained consciousness, I really wasn’t aware of everything that was happening, or how dramatically my life had changed. I just kept apologizing to my family for the mistakes I had made. I knew that I really had disappointed my family with my behavior, and the situation I was now in was one of total dependence.
Then I began to think, “Wow, what’s happened to me? What is going to happen next?” I had no idea of what the future might hold for me. I was told that in the coming year I would get as much function back as I possibly could hope for, but the only mobility I got back was the use of my triceps and biceps.
I had dropped out of school just before going into the ninth grade, because I wanted a career in modeling. I had some glamour shots made and had been used in an ad. So, I had planned to continue my modeling, make a bunch of money and travel the world. But after my accident, I felt pretty sure my future in modeling was over.
I thought I might go back to school and become an advocate for sobriety.
Hopefully, I could talk to teenagers about the same age as me and tell them why they shouldn’t follow the path I had – dropping out of school, drinking and planning a career path that probably wasn’t realistic. I never considered the possibility of getting a job and earning a living because I didn’t think it was an option.
The Hardest Decision Ashley Ever Had to Make
My boyfriend who wrecked the car and I were still an item. I had become pregnant one year and one month after my accident. It was a total shock to me and my boyfriend.
Although I knew that my becoming pregnant might be possible after SCI, I hadn’t really held out much hope. When I discovered I was pregnant, my OB/GYN doctor suggested I have an abortion and told me, “If you try to carry your babies to full term, you either will die, or you’ll be on a respirator for the rest of your life.” So, I faced a really, really hard decision.
However, I told my doctor, “You’re 100 percent wrong. These twins will be a blessing to me.”
I changed doctors, and the new doctor told me, “You will be okay, and you will be able to deliver the babies.” My boyfriend was really happy and excited that I had decided to keep the babies.
On August 22, 2002, I delivered my twin boys. At the time the twins were born, I was living with my parents. At first, my dad was very mad about the accident. Also, because I was paralyzed, he wasn’t pleased with me having twin boys, but he got over everything very quickly once the boys arrived.
My boyfriend and I stayed together for about a year after the twins were born. Basically, we ended our relationship, because my family had a lot of hatred for my boyfriend – he had wrecked the vehicle and gotten me pregnant. Also, we could see that our relationship wasn’t going to work out.
So, I was a quadriplegic in a wheelchair with two babies and no husband and living with my parents. I thought I’d never meet another man who would want to be with me. Although I became very depressed, my children were the joy of my life.
They were the real blessing, I could be with them and not be depressed.
As soon as my twins were born, my parents fell in love with them. I went back to school and took GED classes. But then in 2004, my father was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. He was told he had 6 months to live, but he survived until 2008. I was living in the middle of a bad world! When my dad passed away, my mother, my children and I really had a difficult time. I finished my course work to get my GED, but I didn’t take the test to get my diploma.
An Unexpected Relationship Changed Ashley’s Course in Life
Michael Wilson lived two streets away from me when I was growing up. He was 7 years older than me, but we always had been good friends. One day we spent the whole day together, just hanging out and talking. From that day forward, we were inseparable.
When Michael and I first started talking and getting to know each other, he said, “I don’t see your wheelchair. You’re the female version of me, and I’m the male version of you. We’re so much alike in every way.”
Michael recently had been divorced. When we first met, he was a cook. Michael and I had talked about having a child. On March 2, 2012, we had our baby boy, Christian, and we got married in 2013.
When my twin boys became teenagers, I suddenly became the stupidest woman in the world in their eyes. As I’ve learned, when your children hit their teenage years, all of a sudden they know everything there is to know, and we (the moms) know nothing. Haha!
Ashley Shares Her Persective on Life Now
I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to get a job. I work for an independent ethical review board – IntegReview, and I approve clinical trial drug studies.
I look at different drugs that companies want to do clinical trials on, and I make sure that everything about those trials are in layman’s terms, so that anyone who wants to apply for the trials can understand what these medical trials consist of and mean. Once a week, we have a board meeting and approve or disapprove the studies that are to be done.
So, I’m no longer totally helpless and totally dependent on someone else to take care of me, unemployed, and I thought, unemployable. Before, I had no idea of what my future would be. But now, I’m a working mom, and I have a husband, three children and a good job. I feel so blessed that I’m able to do all the things I do, because I know many people who can’t do what I do.
As sad as my story was in the beginning, one of the reasons that I’m telling my story now is to encourage other people who have spinal cord injuries and feel as hopeless and helpless as I did right after my injury. I want them to know their lives aren’t over.
Your life may be different, but you can overcome all the things that you’ve feared the most, and you can have a great life.
Right now, I have a rich, full life with three children, a husband and a job. I’ve come a long way from only being given a 5% chance to live, being told I’d be a vegetable for the rest of my life, and have to live on a respirator, to enjoying the life I have now. I really feel blessed by God in spite of all the past mistakes I’ve made.
Since my accident, my 66-year-old mother has been my constant help, support and best friend. She does everything I can’t do for myself. I can put on my makeup with a tool. I can talk on the phone, because it has a touch screen. I can get on the computer with a little help, and I can type with my knuckles.
If you’d like to connect to talk about your own SCI, I have a Facebook page (see Ashley Hutson Wilson) that you can reach me through. Thank you for letting me share my story, Wheel:Life!
About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.