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Bucket List Adventures for #ItsThatWheelKindOfLove
By: Jessika Kattah | November 22nd 2017, 10:40 am
Jessika Kattah

My name is Jessika Kattah and I am 31 years young. At the age of 26, I was paralyzed during a 2nd surgery to try and remove a lipoma tumor compressed against my spine. I went into the surgery able-bodied and woke up 9 hours later paralyzed with 45% of the tumor removed but with damage to my spinal cord. However, my disability does not define me & I continue to lead an active ADAPTIVE life that includes traveling, SCUBA diving, hand cycling, indoor skydiving, wheelchair racing and so much more!

My name is Jessika Kattah and I am an Adaptive Lifestyle Blogger. I was paralyzed on December 14, 2012. My story began long before that. I had terrible back pain at the age of 13 that would keep me bedridden for days at a time. I went a year thinking it was scoliosis. Doctors explained to me via an MRI at the young age of 14 that I had a Lipoma Tumor the size of “the length of a hot dog and the width of a baseball” compressed against my spine.

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At a young age, when all I wanted to do was participate in homecoming activities my Freshman year of high school, I was preparing for a major 9-hour surgery. At the time, I don’t think I could fully process the severity of the medical condition, I just remember being terrified of going into surgery. Doctors were able to successfully remove 75% of the tumor. I hated hospitals, still do to this day. My Surgeon expected me to spend 3 weeks recovering in the hospital or when I was able to show him that I was recovered enough to walk up and down stairs as I had a long flight of stairs at home. That was all I needed to hear to get out of the hospital bed every day and practice my walking and going up and down the stairs in the hospital.

In just 5 days, I was released to go home and go to 3 months of outpatient physical therapy and soon enough I was back in school with the rest of my friends. I never thought about that tumor again. I was an active, able-bodied young lady that enjoyed any activity that would give me some kind of adrenaline rush. But dancing and traveling were always my true passions in life. Fast forward 12 years and at the age of 26, I started losing sensation in my legs. I would stand in the shower and couldn’t feel the water hitting certain spots of my lower half. Of course, that was a cause for concern that made me go see a Neurologist, who once again with an MRI, would tell me that the tumor had fully grown back and I would need emergency surgery. As unanticipated as this was, I was ready for this surgery because I had already been thru it once and knew what to expect.

Little did I know, this next surgery would change my life forever. I went in able-bodied, Doctors were able to remove 45% of the tumor but with damage to my spinal cord. When I woke up from surgery, I would be paralyzed. I wouldn’t be going home in 5 days, I was going to a rehabilitation center. I felt as vulnerable as I did at 14 when I couldn’t fully process what was happening to me. Fortunately, after 1 month and a half of intense physical therapy, I was doing what doctors and therapists said I would never do, I was walking (assisted, but albeit WALKING!). I walked out of rehab and would continue outpatient therapy for 5 months. By that time, I was dancing again! I made a “miraculous” recovery no one could explain. Things would soon quickly take a turn for the worse. I was using my wheelchair full-time and not walking at all anymore. Another MRI would reveal, the tumor had fully grown back, but this time there was nothing else anyone could do. Surgery was off the table because it was too high risk with the scar tissue blocking the passage to the tumor.

I started going to Spinal Cord Injury Support group meetings to find others in my similar situation and got involved in our local SCI community events. This is where I would meet my better half, Rey Maiz, who also happens to be paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. Rey was riding his motorcycle to work one day, leaving the corner of his house, when a driver ran him off the road. It was a hit-and-run, the driver never stopped. Rey was thrown off his motorcycle and thru a picket fence where he was left for dead, quite literally. He died 3 times on the way to the hospital and was revived. It’s a miracle he is with us today and is a paraplegic like myself.

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Rey started as my peer mentor. He came into my life at the time I was starting to use my wheelchair full-time and no longer walking. It was the perfect transition because I never really had anyone to teach me wheelchair tricks and how do to get back up if I fell out of my chair. He taught me all that and more. Our friendship and mentoring would soon turn into my favorite love story of all time. We had so much in common. We love to help others, we love the ocean and the outdoors, we love to be adventurous and we absolutely love to travel. Above all that, he understands what I go thru on a day to day basis with my Spinal Cord Injury.

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Traveling has become such a big part of our relationship, we are always searching for our next adaptive adventure! Our relationship gets stronger with each new trip we take. I do miss the days where I could find a great flight deal online and pack a weekend bag and just easily jet off when I was able-bodied. Now that I am in a wheelchair, the passion has not died down at all but the “on the whim” boldness has had to take a back seat. Now, comes a ton of research before traveling. I have to consider wheelchair accessible transportation, hotel accommodations, and accessible attractions and venues. A lot of research goes into making sure I can find transportation for 2 manual wheelchairs, enough room in a hotel to maneuver 2 wheelchairs and attractions we can both manage on our own.

We most recently traveled to Barcelona, Spain. It was beautiful, romantic and maybe more importantly, wheelchair accessible. We did every major tourist attraction within the 1 week we had there! As much as we fell in love with the city, it was pretty exhausting. We were nonstop on-the-go. When we got back from Barcelona, we realized international travel is very trying on our bodies. Not being able to change our position for 10 hours on a flight, dealing with muscle spasticity and not being able to go to the bathroom puts us in an uncomfortable position for a long period of time. This is not to say that we will ever stop traveling internationally, we just think our bodies (and budget) may only be able to handle 1 major trip like that a year.

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When we got back from Barcelona, Rey and I both decided to create a new Bucket List. We have very accessible 50 states in our own backyard, most of which are within a 5-hour flight from us, which is entirely manageable. Before creating this Bucket List, we realized we have already traveled most of our home state of Florida, been to California, Nevada, Georgia, New York and our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Five states and our nation’s capital are already checked off the bucket list! 45 more to go! Individually, we have traveled to more states but it’s where we will travel together that is going to count towards our Bucket List goal!

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How are we going to reach this goal? For one, we have our whole lives ahead of us and if it takes the next 45 years of our lives to complete our Bucket List, at the very least we have something to look forward to every year. We may start by visiting our “wheel” friends who have happily invited us to their accessible homes and we will get to spend time with great friends we have made over social media and become really close. Also, if I ever find a good flight and hotel deal, that “on the whim” boldness may kick in and accessibility activities may also be created as we go. Finally, I follow just about every adaptive travel blog there is and it helps when someone else has already done most of the research for me! Thanks, and shout out to my fellow bloggers!

I can’t wait to see what travel adventures await us!

To hear more about Jessika Kattah and read her blog, see https://www.jessikakattah.com

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