Janice Wray is sweating. Sitting on the edge of a raised physical therapy mat, Wray tugs her left leg up onto the platform, then grabs her right leg and pulls it up too. It’s excruciatingly hard work, requiring balance and muscle she’s worked to build for the past ten months.
There’s not a lot of muscle to build – her body lies dormant from from her chest down, paralysis the result of a car accident in April 2012.
One year later, Janice goes to Providence five days a week to work with the physical therapists at Southern New England Rehab at St. Joseph’s Medical Center. There she works on the most basic of tasks with the focus and determination of an athlete. Indeed, Janice calls it her workout.
She works on things like getting the ankle of one leg up onto the thigh of her other leg. If she can do that, she can put on her own shoes. Janice also works on moving her body around the mat, using her arms to pull her legs into position. Some of the exercises focus on having her balance sitting on the mat, holding a ball in front of her.
Sitting like that is hard enough, she says. “At first, when I was sitting on a mat – you can’t feel it. You have no idea. It’s scary. It’s horrifying not to know if you’re falling, or where you are, where your legs are.”
But using just her head – not her arms – to help keep her upright, that requires intense concentration. The things she learned in yoga before the accident have come in handy, Janice says.
She was always enthusiastic about exercise. Now, her exercises, her workout, have a grander purpose – to get her able to resume the life that stopped that Sunday morning on Route 95 in Watertown, Connecticut.
She was driving north on 95, on her way to see a close friend.
“I remember the whole accident,” she says. “Someone cut me off. In order to not hit another car I swerved, and lost control of my car.”
The car hit a pole and flipped. Janice, who was wearing a seatbelt, was left hanging upside down. Mark Coppes, an orthopedic surgeon from South County Orthopedics & Physical Therapy, was heading south on 95. He pulled over, crossed the highway, and crawled through a smashed back window to get to Janice.
“They weren’t going to stabilize my neck but he knew they had to,” Janice recalls.
She knew her injuries were bad. “After being in nursing school, I diagnosed myself immediately,” she says. “I didn’t know where my limbs were.” At one point, she heard one of the EMTs say, “We have an arm, we have an arm,” and she thought maybe it had been amputated.
Rescue workers had to use the Jaws of Life to get Janice out of the car. She was taken by helicopter to Yale-New Haven Hospital.
It was April 1. “Worst prank ever,” she says.
“Not again, not again, not again … "
For Susan Wray, Janice’s mother, getting the phone call from the hospital was a terrible déjà vu. Four years earlier, she had gotten another phone call, this time about her husband, Michael, who had gone to drop his car off at the Sunoco station on South County Trail, only a couple of blocks from their home on Valley Road. After dropping off the car, however, he’d decided to pick up some donuts for the family from the Dunkin Donuts across the street. He was hit by a car and killed. He was 52 years old.
Now, alone in her house – her three other children were out – Susan was getting another one of those calls.
Susan Wray works at Frenchtown Baptist Church. She called Pastor Mel Baptista. He picked her up and took her down to New Haven.
“The doctors came out and told us she’d never walk again,” Susan said. “It was gut wrenching. I bent over, ‘not again, not again, not again….’” she remembers thinking. “It was a horrible day.”
When Susan was finally able to see Janice, her daughter kept trying to tell her something but she had a breathing tube down her throat and she couldn’t speak.
“She was telling me she was paralyzed. ‘Oh, sweetie, I know … I know,’” Susan remembers telling Janice.
Janice’s story continues here.
Proceeds from the East Greenwich Rotary Club's Taste of East Greenwich this Friday, May 18, will go to helping make Janice's house more accessible. If you are interested in attending, click here.