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It’s most people’s worst nightmare - driving home from work like any other day, then suddenly your life changes forever.

This happened to Debbie on August 12, 2020 when she suffered major injuries as the result of a head-on collision in a San Leandro tunnel and had to be extracted from her vehicle using the jaws of life. The other driver had crossed over the dividing line traveling at excessive speeds and lost control as she bent down to search for a dropped cell phone. A passing BART train operator saw the collision and called first responders to the scene. Months later, Debbie would find out that the train operator was the son of one of her good friends.

Once at the hospital, Debbie learned she was suffering from a broken tibia, fibia and a pilon fracture to the weight-bearing surface of her ankle joint. In addition to her physical injuries the accident left Debbie emotionally shaken and suffering from PTSD, which prevents her from getting behind the wheel of a car to this day.

It took 10 days for the swelling to go down enough for the doctors to perform surgery, inserting 3 metal plates and 9 screws into Debbie’s right leg. After a month in the hospital, doctors released Debbie to go home to her 2 story townhouse in a wheelchair.  Unable to put any weight on her leg, everyday tasks like bathing, cooking and simple mobility became huge feats. Thankfully, Debbie was able to tap into some managed care insurance she had purchased several years earlier, to help pay for an in-home caregiver.

Although Debbie’s aftercare included some physical therapy, she didn’t feel like it was enough. Learning to walk in a boot after graduating from a wheelchair and practicing going up and down stairs wasn’t going to get Debbie back to where she wanted to be - living an active lifestyle. Because Debbie’s accident took place during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, her rehab options were limited and she really started to feel the effects of being isolated and homebound.

That’s when Debbie’s friend, Eugenia, suggested she look into Spectrum’s Fall Prevention classes. Because of the pandemic, the classes were being taught virtually and Debbie would be able to log on from her computer at home. Debbie says that the classes were a godsend and not just physically, but emotionally as well. This fiercely independent woman, now found herself relying on others for her most basic needs. “Being with other people made me feel good and feel normal again. I loved the music and seeing other people in the classes. Stacey (Fall Prevention Program Manager) was so encouraging.” Debbie says that if you looked at her today, you would never know she had been in such a horrific accident and she credits a lot of her recovery to the hard work she did building up her strength and balance through Spectrum’s exercise classes.

“Debbie is amazing. When she joined our Fall Prevention Program, she was not moving very well, but she always had such a positive attitude! Once she started coming to class, and was consistent with her attendance, her efforts paid off. Her balance, mobility and strength have all improved.  It’s great to see someone who has gone through so much have such success! “

-Stacey Blackard FP Prg Mgr

Debbie has also been a Spectrum Senior Meals client at the San Leandro Senior Center when shopping and cooking wasn’t an option for her. She’s also become a generous donor to Spectrum and participates in fundraising events. She was so excited to join other Spectrum clients and staff at this year’s Fall Prevention Awareness Walk at the San Leandro Marina. Debbie has truly become a member of the Spectrum Family and we’re so grateful that she’s back to living her best life and “paying it forward” as she likes to say.