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Steph fell asleep at the wheel after friend's birthday party in Las Vegas and woke up with her life changed forever. The 20-year-old's car plunged off an overpass that night. When she regained consciousness she was told she was now a C5 quadriplegic – her spinal cord was damaged at the fifth cervical vertebra.
Steph clarifies that quadriplegia doesn't mean all four of her limbs are completely paralyzed, just that she has impaired mobility in both arms and legs.
She first tried to do makeup while at a rehab facility. “I was a having a really rough day. I was really depressed and upset about my life,” she admits. “I talked to my occupational therapist about it.” Together they found ways for her open a mascara bottle and apply it to her lashes.
That small victory was a turnaround point for Steph. She began setting life goals again and became more independent.
“It still frustrates me,” she says, but she has a great support system. “I think it's really important to have people you can completely relate to. I'm surrounded by the best girls!”
It took 5 and a half years for her to get comfortable sharing her makeup techniques, but now her Instagram tutorials have more than 91,000 followers. This is her first time talking about the accident in front of an audience.
ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork is impressed that makeup “became part of your actual recovery! Not just your emotional recovery, but even the physical part.” Steph agrees that practicing makeup application has made her stronger and increased her function. “It was complete therapy for me.”
Board-Certified Spine Surgeon Dr. Hooman M. Melamed says that “attitude is really, really everything.” Watching Steph use her hands, Dr. Melamed thinks she has the abilities of C7 quadriplegic, so she's recovered two extra levels of function. “The higher the injury to the spinal cord, the more damage,” Dr. Stork explains.
Because she uses her wrists and palms to grasp and open containers, she now has carpal tunnel from overuse of those motions. “I need my wrists!” Steph exclaims.
Dr. Melamed says this is a common problem, but it's easy to fix – Steph can try splinting her wrists at night for a few weeks. If that doesn't work, a steroid injection might help. Even if surgery becomes necessary, it's a simple procedure.
Dr. Melamed offers to see Steph free of charge and help with her continuing recovery.
Steph recently received an email from Anthony, one of the EMTs who saved her life. Now Anthony is here to meet Steph! Steph is overcome. “I just feel so blessed to be able to see you! I'm so grateful that you're here. Thank you so much!”
“In an EMF's career you only have a handful of calls that stand out, and Steph's was one of them,” Anthony tells The Doctors. “I always wondered about her recovery process.” He found her through her Instagram page and wanted to reach out to her.
Steph's wheelchair has broken and she using a friend's right now. In addition, her manual wheelchair aggravates her carpal tunnel issues.
The Doctors have reached out to Project Walk in Los Angeles, and they'll be giving her free physical therapy for a year – but that's not all. Colours in Motion will be creating a custom wheelchair just for Steph.
“I guess the only request we have of you is, just keep inspiring!” Dr. Stork concludes.