by Kevin Zufelt ’11
There are those who live their entire lives without severe hardship. Unfortunately, Chanelle Houston ’06 was not as fortunate. On a fateful day in August of 2009, everything changed. While Chanelle was vacationing in Virginia Beach she was the victim of a hit and run. Chanelle sustained life-threatening injuries, including a spinal cord injury causing paralysis from the chest down. After extensive surgery, Chanelle received news that there was only a three-percent chance she would ever walk again. That basic ability that we take for granted was lost. Most people would lose faith and only see the worst; however, Chanelle is different. She saw that three percent as hope- hope that she would be able to put one foot in front of the other again. This is where her journey really began.
In the Spring 2013 edition of the Ursinus Magazine, Ellen Cosgrove Labrecque ’95 wrote an amazing piece about Chanelle as she was before the accident and during recovery. I highly recommend reading the full article. At the time the article was written, Chanelle was extremely active in physical therapy and was on her way to walking independently again. While she still relies on a wheelchair for mobility, she has been an inspiration to those with similar injuries. Her physical therapy progress can be viewed on YouTube. Furthermore, she has also worked with HealthyTomorrow- as a part of the National Rehabilitation Hospital’s (NRH) Research department to provide educational tools for others who are dependent on wheelchairs. She helps educate them about how to ride Amtrak as well as how to transfer to a bed using a sliding board.
Chanelle has been an inspiration to others with similar injuries. She has dedicated her time to work with the newly injured and assist them through the most difficult stage of recovery. By volunteering as a peer mentor at NRH, Chanelle is providing hope to those she works with and helping to instill the drive to succeed through recovery. However, those who are new to this hardship are not the only ones who have been inspired. Chanelle indicates that the inspiration works with both ways. She admits that there are bad days where it becomes very hard to continue with the daily routine; however, through her experiences with family, friends, and the patients she works with, her determination returns to keep going.
Over the past several months, Chanelle had to tackle several new challenges. First, due to her progress, the insurance will no longer cover one-on-one therapy. This poses a large problem since recovery has the highest success rate with actively managed care. It happened to be an unfortunate Catch-22. Chanelle has made amazing strides in her hope to walk independently again through her dedication and personal therapy; however, since she has continued to beat the odds and recover, her insurance will no longer pay for the crucial treatments to obtain that continued success. All is not lost, though. Like everything about Chanelle, she always finds the silver lining. She has continued her therapy on her own at the rehab center three days a week. Through the generosity of those around her, she still obtains guidance to assist in her recovery even though the insurance stopped paying. No matter what comes her way, Chanelle refuses to give up. While she hopes to increase her therapy time, she knows that, “Every little bit counts. If you don’t use it, you lose it. I lost it for six months and I do not want to do it again.” She still sees improvement in the strength in her legs, especially the left.
Outside of the rehab center, Chanelle has been very active returning to the pool. She has found the water to be an excellent method for increasing her strength and swims on a regular basis. On July 13th, Chanelle participated in a mile long open water swim in the Chesapeake Bay. To train, she was swimming one mile, two times a week. Her next challenge to tackle is to compete in a sprint triathlon and she will begin training in the coming months.
While Chanelle has been excited about returning to swimming, there is one thing she is more excited about doing again. This summer, she will be completing the road test at the DMV. Especially living in the United States, one doesn’t realize how dependent we are on cars until there is no access to one. While Chanelle has been able to travel through Washington, D.C. through the Metro and other means of public transportation, the system already established is expensive and is not always handicap friendly. She has been relearning how to drive. The technology involved is quite simple, but extraordinary at the same time. The pedals are no longer active and a lever is installed by the steering wheel. The lever is pulled to give the car gas and pushed to hit the brakes. While the system is expensive to install, Chanelle is planning on buying a car after she passes the driving exam; she cannot wait to get back on the road.
I am extremely honored to have spoken with Chanelle about her experiences. Her faith and borderline unbreakable positive outlook have made her an inspiration to countless individuals. She has been living “one day, one step at a time” to keep everything in perspective; what she has lost and what she is working to regain. Sure, she has her bad days, but “the bad days don’t outweigh the good days.” Alumni like Chanelle make me extremely proud to be an Ursinus graduate. Chanelle is planning to attend Homecoming this year on October 18th-19th. If you are in the area, I highly recommend stopping by to hear more from this amazing woman. We all wish Chanelle the best of luck with her recovery and will always be there to support her.