Less than 36 hours after Emmy Saenz’s vertebrae was shattered, physicians quietly told the 20-year-old’s family that they expected her to be paralyzed from the neck down.
But when her mother, Rosemary Bazan, came to sit by Saenz’s bedside, she heard her daughter whisper something almost inaudible: “I can move my arms.”
Bazan pulled back the heavy hospital blankets and the Bair Hugger system that was regulating her daughter’s body temperature.
“Can you do it again?” Bazan asked.
Sure enough, Saenz raised her arms a few inches above the mattress, something that just minutes ago, the doctors didn’t think was possible.
“It was not graceful; it was pretty spaghetti arms,” Bazan said, laughing. But it was evidence of her daughter’s defiant spirit, she said. “If you said that she couldn’t do it, she was going to do it. She’s just been a ‘you can’t stop me’ kind of kid.”
Saenz was paralyzed in an Oct. 1 crash that caused four cars to pile up outside Formosa Plastics Corp. in Point Comfort. The crash happened as Saenz drove to her job at the plastics corporation’s plant, where she worked for a contractor.
Since then, Saenz’s life has been upended. Her spinal cord injury left her quadriplegic, affecting all four of her limbs. After a month spent in the hospital and then in inpatient therapy, Saenz has moved back to her mom’s house, where she and her family have adjusted almost every aspect of their daily lives.
In physical therapy, Saenz has worked to regain strength so she can do more things on her own. Her work in therapy has helped her to eat more independently, to be able to use her phone again, to rotate her hands and to lift her arms higher.
Her next goal is to be able to rotate from side to side, so that she can safely sleep in a regular bed instead of the uncomfortable hospital bed where’s been sleeping since she was injured, she said.
“It’s very difficult,” Saenz said about adjusting to life with her injury. “Even til today it’s still difficult. I think about it all the time, like, why didn’t I just stay home that day? I was just fine the day before, everything was just OK and then just like that, the snap of a finger, completely changed (from) being able to do everything for yourself to not being able to do much for yourself.”
To help offset the medical expenses for Saenz’s care, and to help make her home more accessible, her family is hosting a fundraiser Sunday, with all proceeds to go toward her medical expenses. Sunday’s event will include a lunch, live music and silent auction.
One of the most pressing expenses for Saenz and her family is renovating Saenz bathroom so she can enter it using her wheelchair. Right now, the door frame is too narrow to accommodate Saenz’s motorized wheelchair. Bazan’s home also needs an outdoor ramp and to make some of the other doorways wider for Saenz’s chair, plus faucets and light switches that are easier for Saenz to use.
Because she is under 26, Saenz is able to receive health insurance through Bazan’s job. But insurance won’t cover all of her expenses, Bazan said, because the company is waiting for the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crash investigation to be completed. Bazan estimated that the family accumulated bills totaling more than $100,000 for Saenz’s medical care. And beyond that, health insurance doesn’t pay for many of the renovations and equipment that Saenz needs for daily life. Those expense can be paid for by state agencies, but the waiting list is often months long, Bazan said.
The crash has changed most aspects of Saenz’s life at home, but also crystallized how few facilities, shops, parking lots and restaurants in Victoria are accessible. She can no longer eat at her favorite restaurant because the gravel parking lot there is difficult to navigate in her motorized wheelchair. When she and her sister Brijida Saenz want to go someplace new, they have to research online whether there is handicap parking and whether Saenz can get into the building.
“I think that access should not be treated as an afterthought,” Saenz said. Things like having ramps or adequate space in parking lots shouldn’t be seen as “special treatment. It’s equality.”
For Bazan, her daughter’s injury has highlighted a need for state and local leaders to make SH 35 safer for motorists. Point Comfort has had a longstanding traffic problem near Formosa Plastics.
“I am totally for job openings in our area, but we need to accommodate the roadways for that much travel,” Bazan said. “It needs to be made safer for everyone. One person’s injury doesn’t just affect that one person, it affects an entire family.”