Aisle never give up!

True love really can conquer all...

Published by: Laura Hinton and Jacki Leroux
Published on: 9 February 2012

The wind whipped at my hair as I strolled along the waterfront. My iPod was blasting out my favourite Michael Jackson songs, and I breathed in deeply. Feeling the air in my lungs, I marched forward...
But then everything suddenly sort of shifted focus. There was a strange clinical smell. I heard the click and pump of machinery.
My heart beat fast as my eyes sprang open. I wasn't enjoying one of my strolls along the waterfront in Windsor, Ontario, after work... it'd all been a dream. Instead, there were white lights all around me.
That's when reality came crashing back to me. The last thing I remembered was being with friends and my boyfriend Mike, 21.
It'd been a hot day. I could still feel the cooling comfort of the mini-van's air con as I'd hopped in.
I'd sat in the middle seat with full view of the road ahead. That's right, a huge group of us had been heading to Grand Bend beach. Our friend Emily, 21, was moving away to Alberta, and it would be a final day of fun together.
But then we'd turned a corner. I'd seen bright lights. A car on the opposite side had swerved over.
I'd screamed...
As we'd smashed into the car, the top half of my body had swung forward. I'd felt the tug of the lap belt, and realised my legs had stayed rigid in the seat.
There had been a sharp pain then, the next thing I'd known, I'd had that dream, then woken.
Suddenly, everything became groggy again. I was confused. Woozy with pain, I drifted back into darkness.
Then I could feel someone stroking my hand. I slowly opened my eyes. It was Mike. ‘W-what....' I tried to speak.
‘Just rest,' he reassured me. ‘The doctors are making you better.' Over the next four days, every time I opened my eyes he was there, holding my hand.
Finally, the drugs I'd been given wore off and I was conscious enough to understand what Mike was saying.
‘We were in a car crash. Everyone smashed into the seats in front of them,' he explained. ‘But there was nothing to cushion you.'
He paused suddenly, then continued. ‘As I pulled you out, you screamed that you couldn't feel your legs...'
I followed his gaze down the bed and saw the bulge of my legs under the covers. Tried to wriggle them. I couldn't.
‘Why can't I move them?' I panicked. Mike wiped tears from my face as I struggled to understand. There was a cough. A doctor was standing behind him.
‘We've tried to repair your broken spinal column,' he said. Then he stopped. My heart pounded. ‘It's unlikely you'll ever walk again,' he added. ‘I'm sorry.'
‘We'll get through this,' Mike interrupted. ‘Together.' He squeezed my hand, but I barely heard him. My whole world had just come crashing down around me. I'd never play basketball, or walk along the waterfront again. And Mike. He wouldn't want me now...
He must have read my mind. ‘I'm going nowhere,' he whispered. ‘I love you.'
I nodded, so grateful on the one hand, so utterly terrified on the other.
Mike, a trained paramedic, explained he'd carefully pulled me from the wreckage that day. ‘I ran my fingers down your spine and felt a bulge at the bottom,' he said. ‘I knew you'd broken it.'
‘And everyone else?' I croaked. ‘They were lucky,' he sighed. ‘They walked away with just cuts and bruises.'
I was pleased, but I couldn't help but feel bitter, too. It felt so unfair. ‘Why me?' I sobbed.
It was what I asked myself every day as I struggled to learn how to go to the bathroom and wash and dress myself...
‘Don't stay because you feel sorry for me,' I told Mike time and time again. ‘I don't want to be a burden.'
‘Stop it!' he'd scold me. ‘I'm here because I want to be, Jennifer.'
Still, my confidence hit rock bottom. When I'd met Mike, I'd been working as a cashier, was so bubbly and full of life.
He'd walked into my bank two years ago, this gorgeous lad with the biggest blue eyes, and I'd instantly been smitten. I'd bravely slipped him my number on the back of a receipt one day. The rest had been history!
I'd felt so sure of myself back then, but not now. Stuck in a wheelchair with legs that no longer seemed to belong to me, I went from one day to the next without thinking of the future.
‘I can't do this,' I sobbed to Mike, as he lifted me on to the toilet. ‘You've become my carer.'
‘Lucky I like to keep fit then,' he laughed. ‘Anyway, what do you fancy for dinner?'
He was good at that. He'd make a joke of things, then change the subject - and my mood - in an instant.
After six months in hospital, I moved back with my parents. Mike, of course, was by my side. It was through his support that I found the strength to keep fighting.
When we heard about treatment being offered at the Michigan Centre for Spinal Cord Injury, he was the one to encourage me to go.
‘What do you have to lose?' he smiled. So he was with me every step of the way, quite literally, when I had a custom set of titanium leg braces made.
They fitted over my legs, then locked in place. They were incredibly hard to use, though.
I had to practise walking in them with a trainer bar, a walker and then crutches. But he'd take me to my favourite place - the waterfront, where I'd spent many happy hours strolling along the water's edge.
‘Come on, you can do it,' he urged, as I winced with every step.
But once I made it safely into his arms, I felt so happy.‘Thank you,' I croaked.
I still used my wheelchair, though, as it was less effort. Which is why I found myself wheeling along beside Mike as we took a stroll by the waterfront for our four-year anniversary. I just wanted to enjoy our time together, not have all the focus on me.
All of a sudden he stopped, then got down on one knee. ‘Will you marry me?' he asked, his voice cracking with emotion. He was holding a diamond solitaire ring.
As I stared into his handsome face, I knew we were meant to be, no matter what. ‘Yes!' I smiled.
But as we started making plans, I panicked. ‘I've always wanted to walk down the aisle,' I sobbed.
Yet again, Mike was there to dry my tears. ‘You could wear your leg braces and walk with your dad and brother either side?' he suggested. ‘It'll be tough, though.'
But what better incentive could there be? So I spent the next 10 months barely out of those painful braces. The extra physiotherapy sessions were agonising. ‘I can't do this!' I cried, crumpling to the floor after just a few steps.
‘You can,' Mike whispered. ‘Do it for me.'
I'd have done anything for him. So I pulled myself up and started again.
Soon, the big day had arrived. Hundreds of friends and family gathered at the old courthouse in Windsor. As I slowly walked inside, my dad Allen, 50, was holding one arm, and my brother Kevin, 26, the other, I felt butterflies flutter in my stomach. ‘Just don't let me fall over!' I giggled.
Then I set eyes on Mike. My fears fizzled away. I concentrated on just him as I made the 40ft walk up the aisle. I could feel him willing me on, imagined I was walking along the waterfront like I used to... I made it!
‘You look stunning,' he smiled. Later, we even managed a first dance, Mike helping me as we swayed to Better Together by Jack Johnson. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. It was the perfect day.
Now we've been married for 10 months. Yes, my life has changed, but I know that with enough determination - and with Mike by my side - there's nothing I can't accomplish.

Jennifer Belawetz, 29, Essex, Ontario, Canada