Ten To Go: Definition of a hero

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Marji H. with a boxing dummy | Lauren Simpson

Marji H. with a boxing dummy | Lauren Simpson

Marji H.’s life changed on Jan. 2, 2012, when she was involved in a catastrophic auto accident. After her wreck, she tried to exit the vehicle and was hit by another vehicle. She was in a coma, having sustained a traumatic brain injury, and had both legs amputated. Here, she graciously talks about her wreck and her recovery.

Demond: Tell us what you’d want readers to know.

Marji: An accident is not the end of your life. Your life might be a lot different than it was before, but you’re here; use that to your advantage and do positive things. Maybe it makes me a jerk to do this, but whenever I hear someone complaining about how their feet, ankles or knees hurt, I always have to say, “I’ll trade you!” But it’s true; I don’t care if it’s sore or in pain or even broken, I would trade them any day of the week to be able to walk again.

Demond: What went through your mind immediately following your accident?

Marji: I don’t remember a whole lot from (immediately afterward). I was there, but I wasn’t there, if that makes sense. One of the first things I remember was getting out of the hospital for the first time for my birthday in March. It was a little different because I was there, but I kind of felt like I was watching things from outside of myself. I know that sounds weird, but that’s the best way I can describe that point in time. To be honest, I don’t know if I will ever really come to the truth of what happened. … I can’t go back and change it or fix it or even make it any better. … I know that I could be one of those people that sits around and mopes and hates life, but that’s just not me, I don’t see a point in that. The only thing that will do is push people away from me and make me no fun to hang out with, so I just keep moving and do what I can do to inspire and help others deal with similar issues.

Demond: What is a typical day in the life of Marji like?

Marji: My typical days are pretty much the same routine every day. … They start with therapy, then I drive — yes, I drive — to work. After work, it’s off to visit my cats and then to the gym — yes, I exercise daily as well. Once I leave the gym, I head home to cook dinner. Then, off to bed finally, only to wake up and repeat it all over again. This probably seems kind of boring, but before the accident it was pretty much the exact same.

Demond: Did health and wellness play a part in your life prior to your accident?

Marji: Yes, I was in the gym every day for at least an hour, usually more, before the accident. Now, I’m at the gym at least Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Diabetes runs in my family; my mom had it and so did my dad. Working out at the gym definitely helps to keep my numbers at a better level and not so high, plus it’s a good way to relieve stress.

Demond: How do you feel people view you, along with others who’ve experienced traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, amputation, etc.?

Marji: Sadly, I think that the groups of people in this category are very mistreated. I realize that I’ve been in an accident and had a traumatic head injury, but that doesn’t change that I’m a person and I have feelings just like everyone else does. We all make mistakes and no one is perfect; I just feel like we should get the same respect everyone else gets. People shouldn’t judge you until they can walk in your shoes — and I don’t have shoes, so that would never work.

Demond: Are there enough support groups available and are they doing enough?

Marji: Yes, there are amputee groups and head injury groups and other things like that. I would say that some of the group meetings I’ve been to were OK, but everyone there has their own agenda, therefore it’s not always for everyone.

Demond: Are there enough rehabilitation programs available and has the auto no-fault law in Michigan (which guarantees lifetime benefits for catastrophic injuries from car wrecks)  been beneficial?

Marji: I’ve been to both the Eisenhower Center for rehabilitation and Willowbrook Rehabilitation Services. I don’t know that there’s enough, but I only say that because being in both of those rehabs I’ve seen all types of people in all stages of their life. … I think getting rid of the no-fault laws would be the worst law change that this state will ever make, aside from the no-helmet law! Just imagine driving home from work one day, minding your own business, and waking up three months later in the hospital with no legs. Would anyone choose this? No! If I wasn’t in Michigan when this happened, I would be bankrupt sitting in a cardboard box with no wheelchair … and that is if the hospital would have even bothered to have saved me, because they knew I couldn’t afford the treatment. I’m the million-dollar woman; seriously, I am.

Demond: We all have role models. Who are a few of yours?

Marji: My cousin Jenny. She stuck by me and saw me in the hospital every day right after the accident. She initially took my guardianship role and I guess I see her as more of a mother role for me since my mom passed away when I was 17. Strange as it is, she was the one who told me and my brother that my mom was sick with cancer. She’s just a very strong woman and I have a great deal of respect for her because of that. I also would have to say, Eddie E. He doesn’t know me all that well, but I’ve seen him at the amputee support meetings before and he’s a double above-the-knee amputee and walks around and I’m so jealous that he can do that; for me it’s just too painful. I wish I could walk like Eddie, he’s awesome! (Eddie E. was featured in our October 2014 issue.)

Demond: What would you tell anyone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, amputation, etc?

Oh man, as much as I would want to punch myself for saying this, patience is the key. I’m one of those people who wants everything now, now, now, but life definitely doesn’t work out that way and after a life-changing accident, you need to start by counting your lucky stars that you’re still here. Everything will come back to you, but it’s never when you want it to be. Just be patient and don’t stress out about things because that’s only going to make it worse. Also, the people who are with you are only trying to help you; keep that in mind. Patience is a virtue that I’m not very good at, but after my accident, I haven’t had much of a choice in that.

Demond Johnson

The author, Demond Johnson, is a retired combat veteran who coordinated the U.S. Army’s Weight Control Program. He owns A2 Fitness Professionals. Contact him at demond@a2fitnesspro.com or 734-222-5080.