‘I’ve come a long way’: Paralyzed Richmond Hill teacher shares progress after Memorial Day waterslide accident


RICHMOND HILL, Ga. (WSAV) – Almost six months ago, a life-changing accident turned the life of Richmond Hill middle school teacher Valerie Feske upside down, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down.

After a five-month absence while receiving rehab treatment in Atlanta, the wife and mother of two is now back home in Bryan County to continue her healing journey.

WSAV NOW shared Feske’s story in May, after a Memorial Day weekend celebration at a friend’s house took an unexpected turn.

For the first time ever, Feske speaks in her own words about putting up with those scary first moments in the water and what to expect as she works on the possibility of being able to walk again.

“I was just really scared”

On May 23, she was on an inflatable slide when someone came down the slide behind her.

“There was a collision and I was hit in the back of the neck,” Feske told WSAV NOW.

“Immediately I was submerged underwater and realized that I couldn’t stand up with my legs,” Feske recalls of when the disaster struck.

“Somehow I think I got up with my hands and arms and said, ‘I need help’, then I got really scared, ” he said. she declared.

Feske remembered not being able to feel his body or the pressure of the rescuers touch his legs in the water.

Richmond Hill EMS workers reacted quickly to the crash and transported Feske to Memorial Health.

She says one of those same EMS professionals then accompanied her on the four-hour trip to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation clinic.

It was there that Feske spent five months in vocational, physical and recreational therapy while relearning to do the basic things most people take for granted.

“I had to learn to brush my teeth, to feed myself, to sit down,” Feske said.

“From the chest down I’m not able to move these extremities, so I had to learn to do it on my own, basically using my arms and shoulders to support myself from the waist down to move. my legs, ”she said. noted.

It was a slow process for Feske to regain his muscle strength. “For a very long time, I couldn’t do it by just raising my hands up to my head,” she recalls.

‘It’s just the little things you can’t do anymore’

Feske says the emotional toll on her road to recovery has been the most difficult for her. Her husband, Brent Feske, was only able to stay with her briefly at the Shepherd Center due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I couldn’t see my kids unless they were standing on a fence about 10 feet from me on busy Peachtree Street, so that was the hardest part,” she said.

She says she has also struggled with the loss of her ability to take care of herself like she once did.

“Not being able to stand up or rely on people all the time to get stuff for you, I think that’s that hard,” Feske said. “You don’t realize how much you do everything you do for yourself all the time. “

She remembers having to go three months without flossing while at the Shepherd Center.

“It was horrible!” said Feske. “The first day Brent was able to come [visit], I think I was like, “Floss your teeth, please!” So it’s just the little things you can’t do anymore, that made it really hard. “

‘I’ve come a long way’

After months of recovery, Feske has shown great progress following his spinal cord injury. She is able to feel sensations in her legs, stomach and torso.

“I get kickback abs so that’s good and it will help me a lot when it comes to trying to sit up,” she said.

Two weeks ago, she became able to move and wiggle her right thumb.

“When I got to the Shepherd Center, I mean, I couldn’t take a sheet and cover myself; that’s how weak I was, and now I can roll around in bed, “Feske said, adding,” It takes a lot of work, but I can do it, I’ve come a long way.

At this time, medical experts do not know if Feske will ever be able to walk again.

“It’s the tricky thing with spinal cord injury is that every person is different,” Feske said. “They can do scans, but they don’t know what’s going to come back and what’s wrong, so we’re not sure.”

She shares that she takes her progress one day at a time. “I would love to walk again, but I would love to be able to use my fingers again, or just be able to tuck my torso in, so even something like that would be awesome,” Feske said, laughing softly. “Walking might be at the bottom of the list now, to be honest. “

“Being able to kiss my kids again was a big deal”

Feske has been back from Atlanta for three weeks and says it’s nice to be together with his friends and family.

She received a warm welcome and applause from neighbors in the community as she and Brent drove by.

“[I was] ecstatic, I had cuddles forever, ”Feske said. “Just being able to hold my kids was a big deal, and my mom was able to visit her for two weeks, so that was great.”

The college professor will continue therapy at home. She says specialists from Cora Rehabilitation of Richmond Hill visit her two to three times a week for occupational therapy and physiotherapy with them.

“I will continue this into the New Year and then maybe go back to the Shepherd Center, maybe at the end of the summer, to continue with the rehab,” Feske said.

“It inspired me to fight and keep going”

Since the early days of his injury, Feske has amassed an incredible wave of community support from family, friends and even complete strangers.

On May 28, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp expressed his best wishes by tweeting: “Our family and your Georgian compatriots are with you in this fight!

“It was so overwhelming that I was getting stacks of cards an inch thick one day,” Feske smiles. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so! And then also, ‘how and when am I going to open all this?’ because I was so limited in what I could do.

She said the nurses and therapists at the Shepherd Center gladly helped her open them.

Meanwhile, the Val’s Village Facebook page, which chronicles updates from Feske’s trip, has gained more than 6,500 likes and 7,000 followers since May.

Donations to the Val’s Village Fund and fundraising efforts helped cover the costs of Feske’s manual wheelchair, a bath chair, and a garage lift.

On Wednesday, AMBUCS provides him with a handbike, allowing him to explore his neighborhood with his children.

“It helped me, it inspired me to fight and keep going,” Feske said. “I am doing it for myself, but I am doing it for all the people who have supported me throughout this ordeal.”

Feske says Brent’s love and support made the trip much easier.

“He has to do a lot for me, and it is sometimes difficult because I’m the mother, I used to do so many things, but he does it without complaining,” Feske says of her husband.

“He’s also just been there emotionally for me; he’s so positive and he keeps reminding me that we’re going to have a good life and that it’s going to be harder to do things. but we will be able to overcome them together, ”she shared.

Looking to the future, Feske says his biggest goal is to get stronger and someday return to teaching.

“Just getting back to normal, going back to work, supporting my family like I was before, these are my goals,” she said.

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