In her blog, Jennifer Remington writes about Aug. 15, the day life changed forever.
"While enjoying the company of good friends and my loving family at a weekend lake house retreat, I broke my neck in two critical places after diving into a lake.
"Not realizing that the water at the end of the dock was so shallow, I dove in for a swim. The person I once was disappeared as soon as my body hit the water."
It happened that fast. Once a private person raising two young children in Brandon, Remington is now the subject of public fundraisers as she seeks to regain use of her 35-year-old body.
"I knew when I emerged something was seriously wrong. ... I could not feel my legs. I arrived shortly after the accident by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital and was quickly rushed to surgery. I awoke hours later in the ICU attached to everything the hospital could possibly attach to me. I could not focus, I could not speak, all I wanted to do was to die in peace to end my suffering."
It's like this in so many tragedies. Nobody's medical insurance covers the cost of head-to-toe rehabilitation. Discretion is a luxury that middle-class families cannot afford.
"Days passed and so did another critical surgery on my neck. It was then that I understood the devastation that occurred to me. I shattered two vertebrae which in turn ravaged my spinal cord."
Remington lives in a modest house with her husband, Keith, and children Kyle, 7, and Anna, 3. Before the accident, she liked to ride her bicycle and volunteer for the PTA at Seffner Elementary School.
Now she and her husband are trying to enter a California rehabilitation center that will give cutting-edge training for the patient and caregiver with the ultimate goal of getting her back on her feet. It costs about $5,000, not including travel, and is not covered by insurance, said Susan Hill, Remington's sister.
“The only thing that kept me going was my two beautiful children. Although I could not physically see them, they gave me hope. My attitude on life was changing, too. No longer did I want to die. I wanted to live another day to be a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister and a friend. ... I wanted to be a fighter."
A full-time mom in Lutz, 33-year-old Hill has found herself in the position of family spokeswoman and fundraiser. She feels qualified for the job, though it breaks her heart to be doing it.
"It's been an emotional roller coaster," she said. "I have so much passion for my sister." Still, given the economy, it does feel awkward to ask people for money. "Three years ago we had all this equity in our homes," she said. "Now, who has money?"
A benefit Sunday night at Skipper's Smokehouse raised several thousand dollars, money that's needed to get the Remington home ready to accommodate her when she returns from the rehab center at Tampa General Hospital.
"I am currently listed as an incomplete C6,C7,T1 traumatic spinal cord injury patient. I have no movement from my breast line down, and my vocal cords sustained some paralysis."
Like Hill, Skipper's manager Mark Warren has mixed feelings about fundraising publicly for medical expenses. "If you're asking my personal opinion, it should be criminal, frankly,'' he said. "That people have to resort to begging to take care of a loved one should give anyone pause."
Yet Warren, 43, realizes it has been this way under the Democrats and the Republicans alike. "It was like that under the Caesars," he said.
And both he and Hill acknowledged there is a something therapeutic, even cathartic, when the community gathers to give what it can.
"You find out who your friends are," Warren said. "Other than the financial part, hope is really what it's all about."
"I am on a journey to recovery. Every day is filled with emotions that I hope nobody has to endure but I know I will get better."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4602.