Editor’s Note: Forty-year-old Margarita Elizondo, a paralyzed single mom with three children, lives in San Diego, California. She says, “I’ve learned that the faster you can make the transition from being so ‘I focused’ to ‘others focused,’ the faster you heal and recover.”
When I was 7 months pregnant with my fourth child, a man broke into my home and shot me through my neck. The bullet came out my back, paralyzing me from the neck down.
As I looked up from the floor, I saw my 13-year old daughter, Tesia, come through the door. Then, my brother, Carlos, moved quickly to my side, put his thumb over the hole in my neck where the bullet had entered and placed three fingers over the hole in my back where the bullet had exited. I looked up at Tesia, who was very upset. She had to read my lips, since the bullet had damaged my ability to speak. I told her to call 911, the police and an ambulance.
Later, I learned my neighbors already had called 911 when my cousin, who was my best friend, had been found murdered in the street a short distance from my house. The first responders came directly to my house, not realizing there actually were victims at two places.
The police tried to pull my brother off me, thinking my brother was the shooter. My brother fought with the police and screamed, “If I let go of her, she’ll bleed to death and die.” Once the paramedics arrived, they stopped the bleeding and put me on a stretcher.
My brother said, “Don’t die on me, Maggie (my nickname).” I mouthed the words, “I’m not going to die.” I remember being very angry at my brother for thinking that I was dying. However, I coded (all vital signs stopped) at the house, but the EMTs revived me. Tesia told me later that she took care of 6-year old Kayla and 5-year old Mario.
Waking Up At the Hospital and Afterwards
I woke up in the emergency room with someone putting a trachea tube down my throat and forcing oxygen in my lungs. The nurse asked if I could feel my legs. I answered, “No.” I heard an unseen voice that I know now was God saying, “Breathe Maggie, breathe.” Then, I heard the nurse ask someone, “Are we going to try to save the baby, or, will we try and save the mother?”
At that time, as strange as it might seem, I felt my baby’s spirit leave his body inside me. That feeling still haunts me today and is a bittersweet memory I’ll never forget. Later, I learned that if I hadn’t been pregnant, I wouldn’t have survived. The blood carried in my womb saved me, since I had so much blood loss.
I remember waking up from a coma several weeks later. The doctor who had delivered my baby came in and was crying as he told me, “I don’t understand why the baby didn’t survive; he was fully developed. The only thing I put on the death certificate was trauma to the baby resulting from a gunshot wound to the mother.” I asked the doctor, “Do you know who the angel Michael is?” The doctor answered, “Yes, I do,” as he wiped tears out of his eyes.
I told him my son fought to save my life like the angel Michael, so I still could be a mom and take care of his brother and sisters. At that moment, I felt so much guilt for not being able to save the baby. But today, I know my baby was my saving grace.
I soon learned I’d never walk again, I’d be dependent on a breathing machine for the rest of my life, and I wouldn’t be able to speak. However, I could communicate by moving my lips and forming the words I wanted to say. Someone was always at my side to read my lips and interpret what I was saying.
Living My Changed Life
I was permanently disabled with three kids depending on me for food, clothing, shelter and education. I prayed “God, I understand that part of what happened to me was because of the way I was living my life. But, please, give me something, so I still can be a mother to my children and have some way to earn a living to take care of them. If I can’t walk again, that’s okay. I promise to serve you, and I’ll be the best mom I can be.” A peace came over me, and I knew I couldn’t give up.
The next day after I prayed, I was taken off my breathing machine as I began to breathe on my own. I got feeling in the upper part of my body, and I could move my thumb. As I went through rehab, I tried to help other people there. But honestly, sometimes I did think, “Would my children’s lives be better if I weren’t here?”
I was totally hopeless in rehab. I could see no future, and I continued to wonder, “Now what?” I didn’t believe I’d ever have a social life, be able to hold a job, take care of my children or even feed myself. The tunnel I was passing through was so dark that I couldn’t see a ray of light.
What made my situation even worse then and still does today was how my injury affected the people I loved and my friends. I realized I’d always would be dependent on someone else for the rest of my life. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to give my children the things other children had like sports, nice clothes and hopes of college educations. Although I had caregivers, I still was pulling time out of my children’s daily lives, a fact that hurt me both mentally and emotionally.
When I returned home from rehab, I had problems with my children. A social worker from CPS (Child Protective Services) came to my home to see if I could take care of my children, or if they needed to be put in foster homes. CPS was concerned due to my condition.
“Thank God I had a wonderful social worker who became an advocate for me and helped me keep my children.”
She came up with ideas and programs to make my children’s lives better. One of the programs was the basketball program at Horizon Park Chapel Church after school. My kids became friends with the social worker’s children and children from the church, and my children started going to church at Horizon Park Chapel Church. They’d come in and tell me how much they loved the church and the programs that the church had for them. They asked me if I’d like to go to church with them. We had a van, so my children started taking me to church with them. I gave my testimony about what had happened to me, and what God was doing for me at church. Soon I got more calls to share my stories at other churches.
Learning from Others
One day Pastor Contreras of Horizon Park Chapel Church came to see me. Out of the blue, he asked, “Why don’t you start a ministry for people with disabilities? You’re a good speaker, and you’re inspiring other people. You need to look for more ways to help other people with disabilities. You can start a ministry for people with disabilities, and the church will help you.”
I learned from speaking and trying to help other people that I stopped thinking so much about myself, what I needed, and what I wanted, and when I started considering other people and trying to help them meet their needs and their wants, none of my problems seemed to be as big as they were previously. I learned that the faster I could make the transition from being so “I focused” to “others focused,” the faster I would heal and recover.
- wasn’t the only person suffering from a life changing tragedy;
- could see how others handled their suffering;
- could feel good about me, since I was making a positive change for the better in other people’s lives; and
- could come through my tragedy successfully and have a meaningful life.
Realizing My Disability Is My Brand
The most important thing I’ve learned is that my disability is my brand. My paralysis makes me unique, different and special. My disability is a positive part of my life – not a negative.
“I wouldn’t be as conscious of helping others, if I hadn’t needed help myself.”
A special kind of healing comes when you put the needs and concerns of others ahead of your own. Just being able to share my story here on Wheel:Life is bringing more healing to me, and telling what God is doing in my life heals me and the readers.
My ministry of peer support and public speaking was named “Blessed with Life,” that I was involved in from 2007 to 2013. I realized that to grow that ministry I needed a better education. I also needed to take a break and learn more about public speaking and communicating and ways to use these skills to earn a better living for my family. Pastor Contreras recommended I take some time off from my ministry and focus on growing and bettering myself to more effectively help my family and others. Surviving off Social Security and trying to raise, feed, clothe and educate three children was just too difficult without another source of income.
My new ministry is called “Wheel Talk Wheel Issues” (www.blogtalkradio.com/wheeltalkwheelissues) and will be a talk show that covers three different topics. The first series is very secular and deals with issues that many people with disabilities face. The second series will be like the first webcast but in Spanish. The third series is all faith based. I’ll share about how God brings healing to people with disabilities, and how He can erase your brokenness. I’ll be using videos and podcasts as well as live speaking engagements. All these programs will be on YouTube. This series will start in October, and you can get more information on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/margarita.marguetelizondo). Or, visit my website at www.margaritaelizondo.com.
Connecting Voices of Disability through Corporate Work
I once worked with Access Medical – a company that sells durable medical equipment like wheelchairs. They’re one of the sponsors for these programs. As a part of my ministry Blessed with Life in years past, I referred other people with disabilities to resources I knew would help them, including Access Medical. I felt the company provided the best service to people who had been injured.
I eventually became friends with the owner of the company. One day he asked, “Why don’t you come to work for me?” I told him I would. Working for this company was my first job after my injury, and I worked there for several years, doing the marketing and PR. I really enjoyed the job and the work. But then, I took my break to return to school, and I started looking for more work again.
I posted on Facebook, explaining I was having a problem getting a job because most employers didn’t want to hire people with disabilities. My cousin, Stephanie, from Tennessee who works for True Wireless, called and asked, “Why don’t you work from home? True Wireless has a Spanish market and wants to broaden that. You’ve already got experience in public relations and marketing and speak Spanish.”
Within a week, the president and CEO of True Wireless called me and said, “We definitely want you onboard.” I’ll be able to continue to reach out to people with disabilities and be an advocate for them as well as being able to reach out to people in the Spanish community. This company serves five different states, so I’ll have an opportunity to market and develop programs for states other than just California. The prospects of creating programs for people with disabilities, people who don’t have cell phones and individuals in the Spanish speaking community who don’t have access to cell phones is exciting for me.
I then had a ground breaking opportunity. I was given the green light to co-create my own wireless service specifically designed to serve seniors and individuals with disabilities who require a little more help. Heart Mobile is expected to launch in November 2015.
Understanding Your Disability
I’m often asked, “What advice do you give other people who are living normal, everyday lives and tragedy strikes, making them immediately and unexpectedly disabled?” Here are four steps I’ve followed.
1) Accept, and embrace your limitations.
This step is the hardest. I’ve met people 10-15 years into their injuries who still haven’t accepted the fact that their worlds have changed, and that they have to change to live in these new worlds.
2) Know your abilities are stronger than your disabilities.
Although part of you has been taken away, there is still so much more that’s left that you need to discover and use. For me, my abilities to speak, organize, think creatively, instruct, oversee people, create programs and inspire people are far stronger now than the facts that I don’t walk and can’t use my hands.
3) Learn to love everything that has happened to you.
I tell people my disability is my brand. If I weren’t disabled, I’d be ordinary like everyone else. I wouldn’t have speaking opportunities, I wouldn’t have been Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, and I wouldn’t have the jobs I have now. My disability is what makes me special instead of ordinary.
4) Understand that you’ll have struggles, but also know that you’ll make it through the struggles.
You must learn to roll with the problems and not let the problems roll you. Don’t let your downs get you too low, and don’t let your highs make you too proud.
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.