Inspiring family from Louisiana struggles with physical and emotional parts of paralysis, but still lives a life of happiness and love.
The emotional side of a paralysis victim is often overlooked when the thought of never being able to move again becomes a reality. Emotions of a paralysis victim can run deeper than the injury itself and destroy relationships and even the victim as a person. Karen Ferrara, 43, said, “I had to let him grieve his former self, because it was like a version of him had died.” Karen’s husband, Sean Ferrara, 44, suffered paralysis from the neck down in a flag football accident in 2008. The accident happened shortly after they married in 2007.
Karen and Sean both grew up in Chalmette, La. and continue to live there today. In 2007, the two of them became one and married on the beaches of Florida. The Ferrara’s had already faced challenging times with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that ravished their hometown, Chalmette. With the rest of their lives ahead of them, they never imagined how their life would turn until Sean’s accident. In 2008, Karen received a phone call that her husband had been in an accident and lost all feeling through his body. Sean and his friends were in Florida playing a flag football game at the time. During the match, Sean was hit above the shoulders with an illegal tackle. Karen, who was still in Louisiana during the accident, explained how Sean immediately lost the feeling in his body after he was hit.
As Sean suffered from physical damage, he too suffered from the pain of his emotions. Karen explained that it was not just her husband who suffered emotionally from his accident, but she did as well. She mentioned she was very angry and did not realize how much she took for granted in her life. Karen said, “I see couples holding hands, and now I can’t have that small act of intimacy with my husband. Our relationship changed, but we became stronger.”
Karen explained that Sean suffered from social anxiety long after his injury and feared going out in public places. He did not want other people to look at his now life-long condition, especially after being so physically fit before his accident. His worries continued, furthering his depression and mourning of his former self. Karen, a member of The Spinal Cord Association, said that many of the victims cannot pull through the depression and it destroys their lives. Karen referenced a woman in her core group who had to divorce her husband because he would not allow his emotional wounds to heal.
Karen explained that even the doctors tended to look on the negative side when it came to Sean’s quadriplegic, paralysis diagnosis. Karen said after Sean was injured and strapped to a ventilator, his doctor told her that she should consider letting him go peacefully. The doctor said she would not be able to handle this kind of lifestyle and Sean would never live a normal life. Being a strong woman, Karen immediately dismissed the doctor and never thought twice about giving up on her husband. Karen explained how infuriated she was with the doctors and how that exacerbated her emotional toll.
To add to the trying times of the Ferraras, Karen and Sean were trying to have a baby before he was injured, but after his accident, they decided it was not an appropriate time. Karen said, “We could not give a child the attention it needed.”
Two years after Sean’s injury, however, they decided to adopt after they found out that Karen was not able to have children. Karen explained that the adoption process was filled with complications, and on numerous occasions people would look at Sean and question if he was fit to be a father. Finally, they were blessed with their baby girl, Adrianna, who they adopted at birth. She has been their blessing ever since.
Karen said, “Adrianna is very aware of Sean’s situation.” She explained that Adrianna, 4, realized her father’s limitations at 2 years old and from that point forward, helped him in any way she knew how. Karen said, “Everything happens for a reason.” She explained that Sean recollected on his injury and said that he would not go back and change anything if it meant they would not have this little girl in their lives.
Not everyone, however, was as accepting of Sean as Adrianna was. “You find out who you can count on when times get tough,” said Karen as she explained how many of Sean’s friends have distanced themselves after the accident. She said Sean still has a core group of friends, but the ones who do not come around cannot face the reality of Sean’s life condition.
On a more positive note, Karen explained that she and Sean still have an excellent support system through their family and the friends still there for them. She said they help a tremendous amount when she is at work, and they make the emotional part easier.
Kaitlyn McDowell, 23, and Tiffany McDowell, 25, both Karen’s nieces, explained how strong Karen and Sean are as a couple and as a family. Tiffany said, “Quitting wasn’t ever an option in her mind. When Uncle Sean was in the accident, her thought process was pretty much, ‘okay let’s get through this’ and she pushed from there.” In addition, Kaitlyn said, “I think she has become more appreciative of life and more content with it not going exactly as she planned.”
“Therapists believe on the total bright side of things,” said Annie Schmitt, North Oaks Health System physical therapist. Schmitt explained that it is tough to see their paralysis patients in such an emotional bind, but therapists are the patients’ coaches and want to see them succeed. She said to benefit each patient, the patient is required to have what is called a multi-disciplinary team that consists of all of their doctors, therapists and psychiatrists. As she noted the importance of the team, Schmitt said, “We have to build a trust with our patients.” She explained that the team works together to help the patient with the emotional healing process along with the physical.
Today, Sean and Karen have defied all the odds with love and dedication. Karen said, “When he first became hurt, he could not move anything but his head and shoulders. Now he can operate his mechanical chair, write, type on a computer, walk short distances, stand up without assistance and transfer himself from his chair.” Karen explained that it has not always been easy, but everything her and Sean have accomplished has made the difficult times well worth it.
“At a drop of a dime, your life can change forever,” said Karen. She explained how much more she values life for what her family has rather than dwelling on what they do not have. Karen said Sean continues to improve every day and he is doing what every doctor told him he could not do, such as walk, talk and even lift weights.
Sean is now an advocate for all paralysis victims because he can relate to their struggles, but can also cherish their milestones like his family and friends have for him. Karen explained the emotional ride is tough, but there is hope. Karen and Sean now live happily together and appreciate the time they have with their family no matter the physical, or emotional limitations.