Jen Shelton

July 18th, 2010, was a day that changed my life. I was 27 years old; I had graduated with a dual major from Drury University in Psych and Sociology.

Where We Serve

Greene • Polk • Dallas • Webster • Lawrence • Christian • Stone • Taney

Read more stories

July 18th, 2010, was a day that changed my life. I was 27 years old; I had graduated with a dual major from Drury University in Psych and Sociology. Little did I know, this education became more personal as it helped me to understand life and navigate it differently than I had planned.

I was attending a friend’s birthday party; my friends were there and gathered  around the pool having a great time. I remember the pool did not have lights and there were no lights around the pool. I dove into the pool and the unthinkable happened. I misjudged the depth and hit my head on the bottom of the pool. Thankfully, the impact did not knock me out and I was able to retain consciousness.

I remember floating in the pool face down underwater. I floated into a friend’s chest, she picked me up and from my experience as a lifeguard, I was able to tell her I was paralyzed and to get me out of the water. I think God gave me peace and acceptance in that moment because I never expected to walk and I just knew I would be paralyzed. As I was loaded into the ambulance, I told my family I was going to be paralyzed. The EMT said we do not know that, but I knew it to be true. 

My gut was right. When my head hit the bottom, I broke off a piece of my spinal column into my spinal cord. The injury compressed my spinal cord and as a result, I suffered a C6 SCI leaving me quadriplegic. 

When I came out of spinal shock I knew I most likely would not walk again. From there I spent 8 months in 3 rehabilitation facilities. The doctor told me I would have to live in a nursing facility and I would never live on my own. So far they have been wrong. If it were not for my grandparents and aunt and uncle, a nursing home would have been the life I was destined to. My grandparents stepped in and made the necessary changes to my home so that I could stay independent. They made it a priority to support me in relearning how to do everything on my own.

They were everything to me. But it wasn’t long before they both died, pneumonia within the same year. It was devastating and definitely a low point for me in my recovery. I made the decision to move to Springfield and my aunt and uncle bought a house for me and helped me make modifications so I could live in it. Because of my injury, I have osteoporosis, bruises, skin tears, I have broken my leg 4 times, broken my feet and toes. The doctor has stated that I have the bones of an 84-year-old woman. Standing frame is what keeps your bones healthy and I don’t have access to that type of equipment. 

Right now my biggest struggle is trying to stay out of a nursing facility. This is something I live with daily and something I fear to the bone. It has been extremely difficult to find reliable caretakers to come into my home.

I need a caretaker 6 hours a day for bathing, grooming, bowel program, catheter care, dressing, meals, dishes, laundry and everything that needs to be done around the house. Providing for my care is a very physical job and requires either APC or CNA certification.

My care is through a Medicaid program but the pay is very low. Not having reliable care could literally put me in a nursing home any day. If my caregiver quits and I cannot find another one, I have to lie in bed all day, I am literally trapped. I was hesitant to write my story but this is me. I live in fear of losing everything I own and ultimately being confined to a nursing home at the age of 36.

Being forced into a nursing home will take all of my monthly income and leave me with $30 a month to pay for any and all necessities, losing my home, my dog, my belongings and ultimately my freedom for me would be so many levels of hell. What keeps me going is knowing this is life, it’s my life and I have a choice. Through my story, I hope to raise awareness of what it is like for most people with my injury or disability. I live in pain every single day and because I choose not to take the pain medication, I often turn to alcohol to numb the pain and escape from reality.

I drink to smile, to laugh and to remember what it’s like not to care. Despite what independence I do have, I don’t feel I have any choices and ultimately I am not in charge of my life. It is an extremely vulnerable place. I live in fear daily due to the risk of losing everything.