In May 2006, 13-year-old Samantha woke up in her own bed, paralyzed from the chest down. Unable to sit up, she rolled herself out of bed and yelled for help. She was rushed to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, where the medical team gave her parents the tragic prognosis: Samantha was not likely to survive the night.
Ten years later, Samantha attends Western Kentucky University—where she walks up the infamous hill three times per day to get to classes—plays softball, rides her bike, and works part-time at a Goodwill store in Bowling Green. A decade ago, accomplishing these feats seemed nearly impossible, considering Samantha was told she’d never walk again.
Samantha was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.
“At first, the diagnosis was not easy to accept. I was very angry that I was missing my softball games,” Samantha said. “But I do believe everything happens for a reason. The reason this happened to me is so my grandpa would begin attending church again. In ten years, he hasn’t missed.”
Samantha spent two weeks in the hospital, followed by two more weeks of physical rehabilitation. In July, she was sent home, and in August, she started seventh grade using a walker. Just two months later, Samantha was using only a cane. Despite being told her progress would plateau after one year, Samantha recently regained feeling in her right ankle – just two days before the 10-year anniversary of the diagnosis.
Samantha has never let her disability restrict her. Prior to working at Goodwill, she held down four part-time jobs while attending school, all while refusing to use handicapped parking spaces. This fall, Samantha will take advantage of Goodwill’s tuition reimbursement program and is expected to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality in 2017.
“Working at Goodwill has been a blessing for me,” Samantha said. “Because of the flexible hours, I am able to use the weekends to study. I love interacting with my co-workers and our customers. Working at Goodwill has actually helped my body progress, because I’m in constant motion, and my muscles are stabilizing.”
Samantha participates in Goodwill’s community employment program and works on-on-one with Joanna Yates, a Goodwill job counselor. Together, they work on Samantha’s living arrangements, relationships, tuition reimbursement, vocational rehabilitation, goal setting, and career development.
“Samantha’s determination and spirit inspires me to work harder and happier,” Joanna said. “I am so proud of all she’s accomplished.”