SCI-August-Tammy Le


Originally featured on the Life Goes on Website as a part of our monthly Spinal Cord Injury story of the month for August 2015. Written by Emily Marciel.

She dips in and out of consciousness, opening her eyes to blurs and an utterance of the word, “paralyzed,” I’ll deal with this later, she thinks, and drifts back to sleep.

Tammy Le became a quadriplegic at the age of seventeen when the vehicle she was riding in as a passenger flipped after swerving into a divider. It had been a sunny day, en route to Santa Cruz on highway seventeen. Upon impact Tammy’s C4 and C5 vertebrae were shattered; she was removed from the vehicle using the Jaws of Life.

With metal and titanium plates in her neck and a trache in her neck she was informed of her C4-C5 incomplete spinal cord injury. She recounted the details of the moments and her desire to drink water, her request denied, I can’t walk, I can’t talk, I can’t drink-what’re you guys doing to me? From the hospital Tammy was a vegetable, with round the clock care.

Seven years later, Tammy is thriving. She is worlds away from the worst days post-injury. Tammy, who cannot feel anything below her mid-chest has a concrete support system of family and friends, in addition to in-home care five days a week. She experiences her sensations in a scattered way, they travel throughout her dominant right arm and are returning slowly to her left arm. She described her sensations as, “delayed,” and most are commonly introduced as tingles and vibrations.

As she puts her make-up on in the morning she considers the things she is most grateful for, the main affirmation being independence. She recounted a life changing stay in a nursing home that still resonates with her years later. After being cut from hip to anus to repair a pressure sore and shave down a portion of her tail bone to improve comfort, Tammy spent eight lonesome, helpless, weeks laid up on a sand bed. She was transferred to a nursing home for post operative recovery, “it was a place that I was way outta my element,” she credits the jarring stay as having, “shifted life into perspective.” These days she has the room to herself, sleeps through the night, and feels an overwhelming sense of appreciation for her independence and freedom.

Having been injured two months prior to graduating high school Tammy is very proud of having received her high school diploma albeit shortly after her classmates. She is also self-aware of the person she has become post-injury, she describes the girl she was prior to being a quadriplegic using the adjectives selfish and ungrateful.

Although she receives, “lots of staring,” as she operates her electric chair, she welcomes the opportunity to dialog about spinal cord injury and the ways it has affected her life; some of which are still misunderstood.

Even though Tammy is accepting of her paralysis, some are slower to come to terms than others. She recounted having been taken by a family member to a Buddhist Temple in Morgan Hill, where she observed a Father perform, “a skit,” of healing. After a four hour observation of what she chalks up to the “placebo effect,” she returned home with a good story and a stronger sense of self-love.
Although Tammy doesn’t drive, she operates an electric chair daily.

Her current goal is to transition to a manual chair with power assisted wheels, she is currently raising money for the endeavor via a help hope live page Also included in her fundraising efforts for a new chair are various food related events, “Meals for Tammy’s Wheels” Her desire for a manual chair has been a long time coming; she credits her arm and hand strength to the disciplined use of a Saratoga Arm spin cycle. Her physical therapy is constant; she commented that regaining her strength has been both smooth and motivating. She currently uses her left arm more than her right in an effort to ingrain the muscle memory and consistently remind herself to overcome weaknesses with perseverance.

A new chair would allow Tammy to live with more independence, she commented, on the freedom she feels in a manual chair. In her current electric chair, she faces chronic pain on a daily basis and frequently works with technicians for fittings. When discussing her desire for a manual chair, she added an element of comfort all girls Tammy’s age can understand, “I feel more comfortable and I feel more pretty in a manual chair I don’t like this hunk of metal,” she says with a laugh.

Tammy pauses and pushes a headband across her scalp, carefully assisting the plastic half-moon hair accessory with the palm of her left hand, fingers bent into one another.

Tammy originally connected with Arthur Renowitzky through MySpace and later conversed in person at an abilities expo.
Tammy’s short term goals include getting more strength back in her left hand and pursing her education. She is currently exploring fields of study that are conducive to her desire to help others while harnessing her, “caring nature.”

When she is not working on fundraising efforts, Tammy enjoys engaging in, “simple things that feed your soul.” She spends time on handicap accessible trails, makes memories with friends, and likes to be near the water. Tammy has an affinity for music, 90’s rap, food, and Tupac Shakur.
Tammy is looking forward to the launch of her website and blog Quadversities, a platform she has designed with the goal of celebrating and supporting the disabled; those with spinal cord injuries in particular. Over the seven years since her injury, Tammy has developed “quad hacks” that she plans to share and hopes to build a community of engaged readers. To coincide with her website and raise funds, Tammy has t-shirts available for purchase through her budding website


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