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Stay Strong, Life Moves On

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Stay Strong, Life Moves On

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Inspiration. From a quote to a story to a person to our surroundings, inspiration is all around us and motivates people in all different kinds of ways. There are people who have overcome significant obstacles and have had to live with the outcome. When times are hard, it is important not to give in to negative feelings or fear. There are so many people who could have given into those feelings, but instead, they chose a different path, and three great inspirational people are right here at WVHS.
A junior named Raina Searle was ten years old when her life changed forever. One day she was sledding down a known hill she’s gone down several times before. This one trip however, wasn’t so routine. As she slid down this hill, she ricocheted off a rock and hit a wooden bridge throat first then right rib cage following. She went to two hospitals and remained comatose for about seven days. The accident broke all the ribs on her right side, punctured her right lung, collapsed the left lung, broke her thyroid cartilage, crushed her tracheal, laceration in her pharynx, and hematoma on the back of her head. She endured over 50 surgeries due to this accident and is still going strong today. She may not have a loud voice but what she went through has only made her spirit stronger.
When asked about the accident, Raina answered with confidence.
Q: After the accident, how did it affect your life in the long term?
A: “I do not have a voice, well I do but it’s not a strong one. Meeting with strangers in everyday activities like checking out of the grocery store, is a struggle. Also, reduced lung capacity makes it difficult to walk from class to class. I get winded very easily, so it is hard to do certain activities that I necessarily want to do.”
Q: How long were you not able to talk and during that time how did you communicate with others?
A: “A little over two years. I mostly wrote things down, had people read my lips or just didn’t say anything at all.”
Q: How did the accident affect your family?
A: “My parents had to stay in the hospital with me and they often took shifts. My dad would stay for a couple of days and then my mom would switch. My grandparents felt guilty because it happened on their property and their bridge but of course, I don’t blame them. My brothers and sister had to deal with the fact that their sibling could die. They had to go to school and live a normal life with the knowledge, pretending everything will be alright while fending off nosy peoples’ interrogations.”
Q: Over time did your voice gradually come back?
A: “After two years following the accident, it came back after a surgery and it’s never going to be normal. After certain surgeries, my voice may increase in volume but not a huge noticeable amount. People tell me it sounds louder but that’s just because I’m trying harder. This is probably the best it’s been.”
Q: How did you feel not knowing if you were ever going to talk again since you went so long without a voice?
A: “Not talking is like being silenced by someone except that someone is you and the silence is your thoughts being trapped in a cage in your mind.”
Q: Ever since the accident, how has your view on life changed?
A: “When anyone goes through a near death experience, you become a lot more appreciative of the little things. It makes you realize that people take so much for granted such as talking to someone in a loud room and being heard or saying ‘good morning’ to someone and they won’t look at you strangely because you have a weird voice.”
Q: If you could go back in time and prevent this from happening, would you?
A: “No. Of course I would give anything to have a voice and a normal life, but everything I’ve been through, every single painful experience has made me into the person I am today. There are so many people I wouldn’t have met if I haven’t gone through this. I would just be coasting through life, not appreciating what a gift this is. The truth of the matter is that we could all just be gone in an instant, so just appreciate what you have.”
Raina is honestly so strong. Her story is moving and in the future she’s going to write a book about her struggle that is guaranteed to be an inspiration to many others. Just knowing that she went two years without a voice is catastrophic and all at such a young age too. Every day is a small obstacle for her to face but you either run the day or the day runs you.
Another junior Luke Kowalsky, went through a tremendous struggle in a short period of time.
Q: What happened first?
A: “Well first, midway through September I started to experience random pains. My mom thought I broke something but I just thought it was sore so I continued to play football. One day my mom took me to the hospital and I was proven wrong. It turns out I broke an extra bone on the ball of my left foot. First, I was in a cast then over time I was given a boot to wear and let my bone heal naturally.”
Q: Something major happened later on, correct?
A: “Yes, about a week later I started experiencing pain in my torso. I went to the hospital and the doctors said I had to get my gallbladder removed because there was a gallstone as big as my gallbladder.”
Q: How did the surgery go?
A: “I had to have three incisions done. While in surgery, I had breathing tubes inserted. After the surgery, while I was unconscious, they were removing the tubes when I sucked in the tubes deeper and became poisoned due to breathing in all the bad air. They kept the tubes in and later that day I started to wake from the anesthesia and that’s when they removed the tubes completely. It hurt a lot! Then that night, I was put on an oxygen tank to help monitor my breathing.”

Q: How long were you in the hospital?
A: “I stayed in the hospital for about one week.”
Q: How did the recovery go?
A: “I had to do breathing exercises to help recover. After a month, I came back to school on crutches. My grandfather died and I left school again to attend his wake and funeral. When I came back to school I was moved from crutches to a scooter because I was too exhausted going from class to class with the crutches. After being on the scooter for about a week, I was moved to being on just a boot. Today, everything is fixed and I am walking normally. When football season starts, I’ll be ready to go.”
Even though Luke’s injury didn’t affect him long term, he had a great deal of events occur in a small amount of time. Luke’s English teacher mentioned that Luke came to school with a great attitude every day, stating, “Luke always smiled and worked very diligently to get back on track.” That’s the key to life; not letting hard times stop you from living.
Ms. Price, an extrordinary math teacher at WVHS, went through breast cancer, not once but twice. She was diagnosed the first time at age 36. All within the same day, she went for her very first mammogram, the results saying that she did not have cancer. She then had the lump removed and it came back saying that she did, in fact have breast cancer. The day after 9/11, her first surgery occurred. Her mom died later in April from ovarian cancer. Seven years after her mom died, Ms. Price took the BRCA gene test and her ovaries were then removed for precautionary measures due to the reason of her mom’s death. The second time, she found a lump last October. She took a biopsy and she was told this time it was stage 3 breast cancer that was already in the lymph nodes. The best chance was to have a double mastectomy which Ms. Price was very worried about; she had extreme chemotherapy then followed by removal. She also had to have blood transfusions since the white blood cells amount dropped immensely. Ms. Price endured 24 weeks of chemo and was out of school. She recently just had her last reconstruction surgery in December but today, she is living cancer free!
Going through this interview, Ms. Price was so positive and genuine; she told the story as it was and how it is.
Q: How did you feel when you heard you had cancer?
A: “Both times it was devastating. I felt upset then angry. You go through the questions, like, ‘Why me?’ and then you just want to deal with it. The worst day is the day you find out you have cancer and after that everything gets better because you make a plan.”
Q: Was it hard leaving school?
A: “It was hard leaving school but I knew if I stayed that I wouldn’t be able to function. The first time I had cancer, I stayed in school but it was stage two and I had about 6 spaced out chemo treatments. It was a bit hard for me the first time but I knew this time, I wasn’t going to be able to stay. I encountered over 20 treatments and they weren’t spaced out. The school was wonderful about everything. The teachers made me meals and all the cards, letters and flowers were wonderful. I came back last year to grade the Regent exams because I felt like I owed it to the math department and I needed to get out of my house to feel normal. In September, I came back as a teacher. The students were great. They gave me smiles and hugs and were just overall happy to see me.”
Q: How did it affect your family?
A: “My son was away at school but he came home more often because he was so worried. He took me to chemo, blood transfusions and everything else. He was just wonderful. My husband left because he did not want to deal with any of it or want to see me like this. I honestly didn’t expect that to happen but it is what it is.”
Q: How was it going through chemo?
A: “The mornings were the worst. It’s really hard to get going; we start so early. By ten, I wouldn’t be as nauseous but before that, it’s not good. It’s like being pregnant but really bad pregnant; you feel like you’re going to vomit all the time. Losing your hair is the worst. It’s always hard. I’ve been through it before but when you’re in the shower, washing your hair, you see it come out in globs. You see it in your hands and in the drain. It’s very tough. It makes you not feel normal. When you lose your eyelashes and eyebrows, things start to get in your eyes. It’s the worst. You look like a different person but you feel the same. For cancer, everything is happening in the inside, but losing your hair is an external thing that everyone sees and makes you realize that this is actually happening. You look in the mirror and realize that you’re not yourself. I was most scared of the double mastectomy because I haven’t been through the aggressive surgery but you get through it because you want to see your son grow up.”

Q: How do you feel now that you’re cancer free?
A: “I feel good and happy that it’s all behind me. I look forward to the positive things. This experience woke me up to stop and smell the flowers.”
Q: Has this experience changed your perspective on life?
A: “ Yes. I try to take time to enjoy things where before you get in the rush of life. I try to take time to enjoy the day or time with my son when he’s home. Even at school I try to do things that I might not have done before; Mrs. Fothergill and I started the Cats for a Cure to give back and take time to know people better and take time to go to events. I am busy but I make time for it. Life is short and sometimes you don’t realize how short it is. I tell my students all the time that life goes on and it is what it is. I also look at people differently because you don’t know what everybody is going through until you’ve been through things yourself. It makes you value friendships, family and people who are there for you. This was an eye opening experience. You think twice about all kinds of things, like what you’re doing with your life and how you’re spending your time.”
Going through cancer once is hard enough but to undergo it twice is heartbreaking. To do1 front all this basically alone is even more devastating. Thank God her son was visiting a lot more and was just so supportive throughout the whole process. Ms. Price never stopped being upbeat and enthusiastic.
These stories are each different but they are all still life changing that have left indelible imprints. Raina, Luke, and Ms. Price did not allow these tragic life challenges to stop them from living life to the fullest. They took this misfortunate occasion and used it as a chance to see the world from a different angle. It’s all about how you live in the moment; how you view your life. We’re all living our life knowing that there are people out there who have endured dreadful matters.
Ms. Price, Luke, and Raina have all overcome challenges unthinkable to most people; perhaps by them sharing their stories others will reconsider less significant obstacles and the meaning of inspiration. After all, challenges are what make life interesting – overcoming them is what makes people strong and, for many, life more meaningful, and for others to contemplate as completely inspirational.

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