Quadriplegic Refugee

It's amazing how life works. I clearly remember reading about Christopher Reeves' accident and thinking  how absolutely terrible that must be, never considering for one second that it could happen to me. I broke my neck a week later. I’ve been paralyzed ever since.

My name is Shannon Nelson. I am a 48 year-old quadriplegic woman born and raised in Maine, USA. I broke my neck in a swimming pool accident in the Summer of 1995.

At the time of my accident, I was living a care-free life. I had put myself through dental school by waitressing and had landed my dream job. I was working as a dental assistant and loving every minute of it. I played soccer and hung out with my friends in my spare time. Life was good.

Little did I know what was in store for me!

I don't want to bore anyone by detailing my struggles as a quadriplegic trying to survive on the meager benefits that we severely disabled Americans receive from our federal government (which are not handouts but benefits we earn with our work),  let's just say I saw death face to face so many times, I'm truly amazed I'm still here! Breaking my neck and nearly drowning, two heart attacks (within a 30 day period!), two bone infections, pneumonia, several emergency surgeries and my latest near visit to the other side: a relentless respiratory infection that kept me in the ICU (at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, California) for 5 days.

Damn. There must be a powerful reason why I'm still here after having to "get my affairs in order" so many times.

This past summer I was facing an incredibly difficult decision: homelessness or wasting away in a nursing home at the age of 47. Nursing homes are neither equipped nor staffed to care for severely disabled individuals like myself. I know this from personal experience.

I reached a point where I made peace with the decision that assisted suicide was the only option left for me. I researched and found out that the State where I was living at the time, California, required that applicants be terminally ill to qualify for it. I guess quadriplegia doesn't qualify as a terminal condition. So I looked elsewhere and found out that Switzerland allows people to end their own lives without the requirement of having a terminal condition. There was just one problem: I needed money to make the trip. I had a little money left from an inheritance my mother had left me, but it was in a Third Party Special Needs Trust. I knew my trustee, Mr. Thomas, would not approve such a trip. I mentioned it anyway and he was, predictably, horrified.

Then the possibility of moving out of the U.S. came along and I jumped on it. I knew it was a reckless decision, but let me tell you something: I now know for sure that when you lose your fear of death, nothing can really scare you anymore. It's actually empowering (in a strange way, I guess).

So here I am, happy that I left but struggling. This small beautiful country owes me NOTHING, yet they are generous enough that I will be able to qualify for free healthcare and a monthly disability stipend after two consecutive years of living here. In the meantime I am in desperate need of help. Due to the severity of my disability, I need around-the-clock-care and since I pay my caregivers out of pocket, that consumes most of my small disability check. I left the U.S. with nothing but three large suitcases and hope in my heart.

Would you consider helping me? Among the things I need are:

- A hospital bed: I left mine behind because shipping it would have been too expensive (hospital type beds are quite heavy) and the cheap one I bought here is already falling apart. I cannot sleep on a regular bed or mattress because of the risk of pressure sores (I’ve had a couple already, that's how I got bone infections).

- A hoyer lift so that my caregivers won't hurt their backs while transferring me between my bed and my wheelchair. This has become even more urgent since breaking my ankle.

- My boxes shipped! I left a lot of my belonging in boxes (in the U.S.) and I'm running out of storage time! I have medical supplies and other essential items in those boxes.

- A manual wheelchair because I'm having a very hard time getting around in my massively heavy power wheelchair without a wheelchair accessible van. The city I live in is not completely wheelchair accessible.

- And if I may get a little ambitious: a second-hand wheelchair accessible van. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting other disabled people around here who also struggle due to a lack of proper public transportation and would LOVE to start a program that offers free rides to people in wheelchairs!

Now, if by some blissful coincidence, someone reading this could hook me up with an individual or a company willing to donate medical supplies that I've been buying out of pocket such as gloves, bed pads, urostomy bags and wafers (I got my bladder removed a decade ago so I have a urostomy), that would be amazing!

Whatever you can help me with, even if it's just $1, please know that it will be greatly appreciated and put to good use!

Thank you so much for your kindness!


P.S. There are some important things I feel the need to mention:

- I have documented proof to back all of my claims.

- I cannot reveal my location yet for reasons that I cannot disclose at this time. I will however do so soon. A couple of trusted friends in the U.S. do know where I am.

- Even though I am not officially a refugee, I consider myself one since the reason I had to leave the United States was, literally, to save my life. Trust me on this, quadriplegics don't do well in the streets. A nursing home was not an option I'd consider because it would have led to a slow, painful death. I’ve spent time in 3 different nursing homes (nearly dying in the first one). Most nursing homes are not even equipped or staffed to properly take care of regular residents! So they are certainly a death sentence to severely disabled people like myself. By the way, if you, the person reading this, has a relative in a nursing home, PLEASE please visit them as often as you can. It was heart-breaking to see so many lonely elderly people. They would often talk about family members they loved but who rarely visited them. Makes me cry to this day.

Donations (0)

  • Pantaleon Candidus  
    • $500 
    • 11 hrs
  • Pantaleon Candidus 
    • $600 
    • 1 mo
  • Nicole Vassar 
    • $50 
    • 1 mo
  • Jon Pohl  
    • $100 
    • 1 mo
  • Mark Adams 
    • $100 
    • 1 mo

Fundraising team: Shannon’s helpers (2) 

Shannon Nelson 
Raised $2,680 from 19 donations
Emeryville, CA
Heather Nelson 
Team member
Raised $435 from 5 donations
This team raised $6,133 from 55 other donations.
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