Possible womxn 10/12 Emma – Paralyzed from the chest down

Where do I begin with this badass lady?  When I started the Impossible Boudoir Project I had two ladies in mind for it. I thought maybe if I can just get these two ladies to do it, I’ll really have something here. I reached out to Emma letting her know what I was doing; what my mission and hope for this project was and the type of womxn I wanted to feature. She loved it, every bit of it but politely declined preferring to have her photos private. I totally understood and went on my way with finding more womxn for this project. Months go by and as I was giving the project a little more time to make its way to people and womxn who had a story about their body to tell. A few months into the project I had found all of my ladies but was still looking for just one. At that very time I received a message from Emma saying that she had been following along with the project and felt inspired and empowered and inquired if I had any more spots left.

I think timing and everything happens for a reason. I love the fact that Emma was one of the first ladies I thought of for this project and is now one of the last ladies to be a part of it. Her story is an incredible one and she completely defines the very reason for why I started this project. Making the impossible possible. I am beyond honored to have her be a part of the IBP and even more flattered that she wanted to be a part of this.

I recently came to discover that I am in the business of love. What I stand for, what I represent, how I photograph, how I am with you all comes from love. I put all my love into this so you can see all the love within you. It’s my job to love on you, capture you and empower you to see the innate beauty within yourself. I believe everyone is beautiful and everyone has a body that is worthy to be seen. If your body is unconventional, different or not like most bodies, that is beauty. That technically makes you a rare beauty because you are not easy to come by. Love yourself, be kind to yourself, feel your beauty.

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 “The whole session just provides so much confidence. I think it’s such an empowering thing to be able to draw that out of people because everyone has got that confidence in them.” – Emma

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Growing up Emma was always a pretty confident person. She knew she was loved by her friends and family, was tall, gorgeous, had beautiful eyes and pretty brown hair. She had a very supportive father who would always tell her how beautiful she was. Life was easy, normal and pretty great for Emma. Love in her household, loved from friends, did well in school, was looking forward ahead to a bright future.

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When Emma was in high school she had a modeling agency contact her to see if she would be interested in modeling. She thought she would give it try, because why the heck not! Getting your photos taken is a lot of fun 🙂 The experience was less than good. Emma being already a slender, in shape 16 year-old was told that she would have needed to lose an inch off of each thigh to be considered. She took one look at them, said “nope” and walked right out. I love that she was inspired to walk away from that; from a potential future of people tracking your diet and weight for work. Her support system giving her all the confidence she needed in the world must have helped her realize that this wasn’t going to be a good route for her.

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“If you don’t fit into their numbers, then sorry.” – Emma

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Emma continued on through high school just being your normal average teenager. She got good grades, was active in school activities, had lots of friends and planned for college ahead. Then one year after graduating high school on April 1st 2012, Emma was in a terrible car accident with friends that changed her entire life. Thankfully, no one else in the car was severely injured, the only person who was badly injured was Emma. “I took it all.” -Emma She was in the passenger seat of her car when the accident happened and took the most impact on her side of the vehicle. She had broken her neck, was in the hospital for close to 4 months and was almost instantly paralyzed from the accident.

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After the accident happened, all she remembers was being conscious but not really knowing what was happening or going on. She remembers calling her parents and telling them what happened and having some soreness and not really being able to breath. Emma had asthma and she thought she was having an asthma attack but is now sure that she was more than likely going into respiratory failure from the accident and experiencing pain throughout her body that she couldn’t really feel at the time. Emma was then placed in an ambulance and all her other friends in the vehicle were all placed together in a separate ambulance.  They were over in Eastern Washington at the time and went to Kittitas Hospital.

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Emma had not one single scratch on her body from this accident. “I looked totally fine.” – Emma The doctor was worried that she might of had a spinal cord injury because she was showing no physical signs of injury.  She was then airlifted by a jet, because there was a storm over the mountains and a helicopter was unsafe. She went from Kittitas Hospital in Ellensburg to Harborview in Seattle in about 15 minutes. “There were a lot of ambulance rides.” – Emma She went from the ambulance to the hospital.  Then she went in an ambulance from the hospital to the local airport, was flown to Seattle where she got in another ambulance that took her to Harborview. “And that’s $15,000 right there!” – Kendra Emma laughed and said “yup, lots and lots of medical bills.” – Emma Thank you US Health Care system.

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Once she arrived, they instantly took her into surgery. Emma had multiple surgeries within the first couple days at the hospital and the doctors tried to stabilize her spine as much as they could.

“I was in the ICU for a month. Initially I was intubated because I could not breath and then once they tied to extubatne me I went into respiratory failure.”- Emma

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After going into respiratory failure they decided to give Emma a tracheotomy. A tracheotomy is a hole surgically created through the neck into the trachea to allow a breathing tube to feed through to help stabilize your breathing.

“I couldn’t talk for around 50-60 days once that was in.” -Emma

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So to update you here real quick to make sure we’re all on the same page, Emma here basically gets into a terrible accident, is sent off to the hospital, goes into respiratory failure, probably nearly dies and then wakes up not being able to speak at all for close to two months. Once she got the trach she was able to mouth words which was then her primary way of communicating while she still had to have it in.

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“They had a little letter board which was the most frustrating thing. I would spell out sentences which would take forever and nod to communicate.” – Emma

“They tried to take it out once to see if I could breathe and speak and was only able to say ‘hi Dad’.” -Emma

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“I never knew what to say. I was embarrassed to talk because my voice was kind of weird but my Mom would say, ‘Emma, just tell them your Taco Bell order.’ and I would tell them what I would get from Taco Bell.”- Emma

After the ICU Emma moved up to the rehab floor and was there for roughly three months. She was able to get her breathing machine out and was able to get it out on her birthday none the less. “That was a nice present.” -Emma I can only image, such a great present to be able to breathe again. She was able to speak a little and her voice was very soft after being able to breathe again. After having the trach in for so long it took Emma a while to get her voice back. Having scar tissue in her throat from her tracheotomy took some time to heal. Emma says when she was in the hospital she couldn’t shower or take any baths. They would give her little sponge baths and she was looking forward to coming home and enjoying the simple things like cleaning your body good and well.

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After 110 days in the hospital Emma was ready to go home. Even when she was in the hospital Emma always had a pretty good outlook on things. She was ready to go home, continue with her life and be the young vibrant 19-20 year old she was.

“It’s awful that this happened, but I am ready to go. The day after I came home from the hospital I went to the beach with my friends and my parents were freaking out.” -Emma

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After Emma got out of the hospital, she would go to these rehabilitation centers that would teach people what it’s like to now live with a spinal cord injury. She learned about new things that she would have to watch out and look for. She learned that maintaining a healthy diet is something important for people who are in a wheelchair. What you eat and how much you weight matters. People who are wheelchair bound are prone to pressure sores on their sit bones. So being too overweight can cause too much pressure on your sit bones, but then being too underweight can cause you to be too boney and making pressure sores much worse. Not being able to move over 75% of your body effects the amount of physical activity Emma can do which makes losing weight for her much harder. Being on a strict food diet is what will help Emma out best.

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“I don’t follow any rules. I’m not the most healthy, I like my Taco Bell, but so far it’s working for me and I’m sure when I’m older it will not be working for me anymore. We’ll cross that bridge later.” –  Emma

Emma finds herself still to be a fairly confident person. She still loves her body a lot; actually even though it doesn’t work so well for her anymore. She says a lot of times when people are paralyzed their muscles will atrophy and their legs will start to get very skinny from losing all the muscle that is no longer thriving your body. She loves that she still has some legs and some curves to her body; still after being paralyzed for close to 8 years.

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“I have no feeling or sensation or function from here down (pointing to her upper chest, lower shoulders).” – Emma

Emma can move her neck, her arms and can prop herself up for a little while sitting down as long as she is on a flat enough surface to stabilize and balance herself with her arms. She also has minimal function in her fingers, not too much though. She has a car that she drives that is custom to her needs and her steering wheel has a little pole like thing that stick out towards her that she can grasp onto and steer with. Her acceleration and brake are all done by hand as well. How cool and amazing to still be able to have that little bit of freedom to get in a car and drive wherever you want.

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If there is one thing Emma is self-conscious about is her tummy. Because she has no control whatsoever over her abdominal muscles, it causes her stomach to stick out a little bit. It’s called quad belly or quad tummy. Being quadriplegic means that her stomach will distend no matter what she does because she is not able to move or strengthen her abdominal muscles at all.  She stresses sometimes about to what to wear and what she will feel confident in with her belly. I was most proud when she showed up with a bunch of two-piece bra and undie sets ready to show off her body- the parts she loves and the parts she needs to send more love to. She remembers back when she was about to get married and trying on lingerie that would fit and work and what she would feel comfortable and beautiful in.

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Emma has a belly bag that she must constantly wear. It is how she uses the restroom.  I guess you could say that dealing with that is always a pain. When it comes to what to wear and especially how she feels when she’s with her husband, she is constantly worrying about the bag. It can sometimes be hard for Emma to feel sexy when she has to slap a bag of pee on her.

“I can’t buy cute lingerie and then just slap this big bag of pee around it, that’s not cute!” -Emma

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Over the years she has been presented with different opportunities and things she had considered trying. Like Miss Wheelchair USA (Yes! That is real) and even modeling potentially for Nordstroms in her wheelchair. Again- Nordys wanted some measurements and Emma wasn’t quite ready to participate in such a huge event like Miss wheelchair USA. I asked her how it makes her feel when she gets showered with some many compliments on her appearance and how others think/suggest she should pursue something in regards to modeling, etc. “Knowing that people think I am pretty, I do love. It does make me feel good and who doesn’t want to be told that they look great.” -Emma

Who doesn’t especially want to be told that they are beautiful if they are disabled in some way because society, people, maybe even some family might tell them they’re not.

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“I get frustrated that the accident happened at all and wish some times that I could be doing other things like going to the gym, working out and having a more toned body. Then I’d have this perfect body for what people are telling me what to do, but I don’t even want to be a model or do stuff like that.” – Emma

Emma thinks it would be cool to do something one day to say she did it and to say she had the experience of it. But potentially being this person who is a famous model in a wheel chair is not the life Emma images for herself; although others say she could do it.

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Initially after Emma was home from the hospital, she would have physical therapists come to the house about 2-3 times a week. After home therapy she started PT back at Harborview 2-3 times a week. Once the PT therapist at Harborview did all they could for her, Emma started looking into other therapist options so she could continue to better herself. Her PT focus at Harborview was to get her using the mobility and functions she could at the best she could to give her as much independence as possible. Once she, for lack of a better word, graduated from that she moved onto another office to keep her body moving. Now that she had been working on the muscles that she could move, she still wanted to keep moving the muscles that she couldn’t and that’s where this new physical therapist came in.

“We found a place nearby which is where my now husband works.”  -Emma

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Emma met Marty when she started her new PT at a new location. Marty says he knew from the moment he saw her that they were going to be together. Now how friggin cute is that? Emma and Marty just recently celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary! *Heart Swells* Okay- back to it.

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Emma talked about some of the cool machines that she was able to use during her physical therapy. She had used a couple of machines that prop her upright and walk for her on a treadmill. She says for most people it can be an emotional experience but it didn’t faze her too much. “Ehhh, it’s okay. I know I’m not really making these steps, it’s all just doing it for me.” -Emma One thing that Emma actually did love was being in this exoskeleton at her physical therapist office in Boston. She went for a short amount of time to this well-known establishment and got some pretty cool training done!

“I have this video of me taking my first step with it with the biggest smile on my face. I was so happy.”- Emma

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This exoskeleton is basically a large backpack that would connect down to her feet and basically assist her in walking. Emma says there are a lot of functions on how to operate the exoskeleton, but what Emma did was shift her weight from left to right to start walking. If she wanted to take a step with her left foot, she would lean to her right and visa versa.

“I’m helping direct the machine where to go and doing what I can to help with leaning side to side.”-Emma

Emma is more than ready to go back to Boston to experience that again.

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Emma’s day always looks like she’ll be some having company. Emma has around the clock caregivers to help her out with the things that she needs assistance with. She has caregivers in the mornings and afternoon and a caregiver at night while her husband is at work. I won’t go into every little detail of what she needs assistance with, but you can imagine not being able to move most of your body that you need a team of  people to help you out. Being able to get dressed is a big one and sadly, we do not live in a world where constant public nudity is cool… yet. Also, weather can prove to be extra cold at times so needing and having the liberty to change when you want to is important. I’m so glad she has an awesome group of humans there for her.

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“I’m pretty independent. I can do a lot by myself.  Just yesterday I was able to get in the car by myself and I hauled my wheelchair in and plopped it right over me. First time I have ever done that.” -Emma

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“It’s been really nice to be able to drive, but I’ve always needed someone to help me get in the car.  They load my wheelchair in the trunk, then wherever I go I also meet someone to help me get out.”- Emma

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Emma really isn’t in too much physical therapy anymore, although she does see a trainer who she met at 24 Hour Fitness that works with her three days a week. Emma is the only person she works with that has a disability and the two of them have now been working together for about 5 years.

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I asked Emma what the experience was like when she was told that after her horrific car accident she would be paralyzed forever. She never had that moment. No one knows and not even Emma knows how she just knew that that happened. Neither the doctors or her parents ever had that conversation with her. She just simply knew and accepted it and started her journey of a new life.

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“It’s so funny because I actually never had that moment. It’s actually very kind of bizarre because nobody knows how I knew. I asked my parents and they never told me. The doctor never told me and a lot of people I know say they wake up and try to get up and someone has to break the news to them. That never happened to me. I just kind of knew that this is what happened; this is it and that it’s going to be okay.” -Emma

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“I have my good days and I have my bad days, but overall I’m really okay. It’s mostly the littler things that bug me like oh I can’t wear those cute clothes or being able to do certain things by myself. It’s never really ‘oh I wish I could walk’, which is kind of funny.” -Emma

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Emma was truly lucky and said that she did not go through a major depression like most do once they become disabled. When Emma was in the hospital, they had provided her with a counselor who would go talk to the patients who had just experienced major trauma to see if there was any help she could assist with in recovering mentally and emotionally. Emma said she really didn’t need to talk at all with her because the counselor said she was doing so well.

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“It’s so funny because I just love my life. Everything I would have wanted prior I have now. I graduated college; have a job; I’m married; we own a house; we have a dog; that’s a handful and talk about kids is in the future. My life is exactly what I would have imagined before my accident except for the fact that I’m just sitting down.”-Emma

“I’m very lucky.”- Emma

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I asked Emma how she felt about her body overall today. She says that she feels pretty good about her body although she wished it did work. She wishes she could have more muscles strength in her body, mostly in her core area to have more mobility and control over how she looks.

“I’d say the most frustrating thing about my body is that if I wanted to look a certain way, I can’t do anything about it.”- Emma 

Other than that, my body doesn’t like to cooperate with me.”- Emma

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“I’ve always been pretty optimistic, somehow I don’t know how though.”- Emma 

I know exactly how. Emma here is such a huge inspiration to us all. When she had something traumatic and life altering happen to her, instead of wallowing and feeling bad, feeling unlucky and feeling broken, she decided that she was going to continue to try and be happy and live her life and she has. In the face of all odds, Emma chose to thrive and live.

Now- go out there and choose to love your body everyone. Your body is deserving of love and life. If your legs don’t work, or your insides are on fire all the time or your skin acts up and doesn’t cooperate with you, choose to love those parts of you because they are apart of you and apart of your life and they will be with you every step of the way. So love your legs even if you can’t walk. Love your heart if it feels broken. Love your body even when it doesn’t cooperate with you. Just love yourself <3

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Wedding Photo of Emma & Marty https://www.samandsolalee.com/

From Emma-

“When I got the email saying my photos were ready I began to feel all the same nerves I did before the shoot. I was scared to click the link to view them and view myself in such a vulnerable setting. But the moment I started going through them I thought, “damn I look good.” Kendra you did an amazing job making me feel relaxed, confident, and like a queen – and in my opinion it’s evident in the pictures.

While there are things I feel insecure about and don’t like about my body this shoot helped me embrace those things.  I don’t like that I have to wear a catheter, I don’t like that I have what is known as a “quad belly,” I don’t like that I can’t always wear the clothes I want because they don’t fit right when I’m sitting, and the list goes on. I think we are all our own worst critics. Nobody else sees what we see. I try to not focus on these things and really focus on what I love about myself.
I wasn’t sure how the posing was going to go during my session with me having very little balance and not being able to move and adjust my body. But we were able to get creative (which I’m used to doing) on how to make it work. Kendra, you captured such authenticity, candid moments, and genuine emotion in these photos. I will treasure them forever.
Our society has created a norm that people with disabilities can’t be sexy. I would even go as far to say that people with disabilities aren’t even viewed as attractive let alone sexy. I am all for body positivity and at the end of the day we really are like everyone else just living our lives a little differently and I think Kendra captures this in each picture.
Kendra asked, “if you could let the world know what it’s like to be in your body, what would you say?” What a tough question. I have spent a month thinking about it and still don’t have a clear response. I live in constant pain from my injury and feel like my body is always burning. I have bladder spasms that I can’t control. I have involuntary movement in my muscles that cause my legs to not cooperate with me. I really have no control over my body. With all of that being said, some might think that I don’t like my body, and while I do get frustrated at it a lot, I truly do love it and have learned to understand it and embrace it. Some might view it as a broken body, but I have grown so much as a human being and person because of it.
What a eye-opening and incredible experience this was. I feel so grateful I had the opportunity to participate in such an empowering project. I will absolutely do another boudoir shoot in the future … and maybe even convince my husband to do one with me.”