Friendship Really Matters: A supportive community is the key to recovery following spinal injury
Experiencing a life-changing injury can be a devastating blow. Two amazing individuals from Nepal share their experience of spinal injury and how connections in their communities encouraged them to embrace life again.
Nirmala Karki was a teaching student in her home region of Ramechhap in Nepal. She was collecting animal feed at her home when she fell, injuring her spine.
Nirmala says, “I had been afraid [of a spinal injury] and now it became reality. Following my treatment in hospital, I returned home but it was really depressing to just sit in my wheelchair all day and not be able to do anything.”
A month after returning home, Nirmala found out about the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) in Nepal and travelled there for therapy. “This was a major turning point in my recovery,” she says. “By the end of the rehabilitation, I was able to carry out all day-to-day activities independently.” But more than this, it was the support of the community at SIRC that gave her hope and helped to combat her feelings of isolation and fear of dependence.
Nirmala says: “Spending time with fellow patients and hearing about others battle with spinal cord injury was a great help in overcoming my sense of helplessness.”
As a result, Nirmala had a new lease of life, putting her depression behind her and filling her with a sense of purpose. “Once I returned home, I decided to resume my studies and before long I had obtained a bachelor’s degree. I was determined to continue my job as a primary school teacher.”
But sometimes communities take time to learn how to support someone. For Nirmala, who, with the support at SIRC, had come to terms with her injury and was ready to move on with her life, her own community at home who still doubted her abilities – even after she had proved herself capable and was ready to start back to work.
Nirmala says, “Most of the people in my village doubted my independence. They said that giving me the responsibility to teach in a school would only be an additional burden to the staff.” But Nirmala wasn’t ready to give up. “I loved it too much,” she says. “It took a lot of convincing but I finally got the chance to prove myself.”
Nirmala began teaching at a school near her house and her excellent teaching skills and amazing relationship with her students have silenced her critics. She now works full-time, while running a household and looking after her elderly mother.
“The fact that I have finished my education and also have a stable job despite sustaining a complete spinal injury clearly shows that I am not restricted to a lonely and helpless life.”
12-year-old Amrit Rana Magar similarly found the support he needed following his injury. Amrit sustained a spinal cord injury as a result of the earthquake that devastated areas of Nepal in 2012. He was playing on the banks of the river with his friends when the earthquake hit. “I was buried under a mound of earth,” he said. “It felt as though the weight of the entire world was on top of me.”
Following surgery at hospital, Amrit was transferred to SIRC for rehabilitation. With the support of fellow patients and staff and the dedication of his own family, he learned to be independent again. And due to the amazing efforts of one woman, Maya Sherpa Mam, who was accompanying her husband, a patient at the centre, Amrit was able to continue his education.
He moved from SIRC, where he had been the only child, to the Khagendra New Life Centre, where he made a great many friends of his own age.
Amrit says: “I felt like I had a family with many brothers and sisters like myself.”
Amrit is optimistic about his future. Now aged 16, he is currently studying at a disability-friendly school in Jorpati, Kathmandu and hopes to become a computer engineer. He says, “There is no point thinking about my accident. Now I look at it as a speed-breaker rather than a dead end. Though I may not walk again, I want to live life to my full potential.”
Livability’s partner organisation, the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC), in Nepal, provides rehabilitation services to 30 plus patients at any given time, and is well on its way to developing Nepal’s first purpose built rehabilitation treatment and training centre. SIRC was an integral part of the recovery effort after the Nepal earthquakes in 2015.