“16 years ago today, my life changed forever…it was a miracle that the bullet didn’t hit any major arteries…I have my down times bc being a C5 quadriplegic isn’t easy but 3 things get me through everyday, my faith, my friends, n my family.” – Erica Byers Pelton’s Facebook page, March 1
Erica Byers Pelton was 17 years old the night she was hanging out with friends in a minivan. Her buddy pulled out a gun, and Erica told him to put the weapon away even as she saw the flash of a bullet. The gun fired, a bullet hit her neck, and her life was changed.
The bullet cleared all major organs, but lodged in her spine, resulting in complete paralysis.
In the ambulance Erica asked the EMT if she was going to live. Little did she know that she would not only survive, but thrive.
The next couple weeks were full of pneumonia, fever, and a partial lung collapse as she recovered in the hospital. When she finally stabilized, Erica was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. Arriving at Mary Free Bed, Erica remembers being in shock and pain, but being committed to staying positive.
“I immediately forgave my friend for shooting me, because I didn’t want any bitterness,” she explained.
Erica had no idea how difficult the therapy would be for her to reach her goal of independence. She needed to have the skills to be alone during the day. She tackled the physical therapy and occupational therapy, in addition to returning to her high school studies. Erica was committed to graduating with her class even though she was a year behind. She set big goals for herself.
“I had the best therapists, nurses, and doctors in the world,” Erica said. “They became part of my support system.”
Her therapists set up a rigorous schedule.
“It was hard,” she remembered. “They pushed me hard, and I had to stay positive, get through it, and get tougher. It wasn’t easy to stay positive, but my family and friends, my faith, and those therapists got me through. ”
At Mary Free Bed, Erica recovered partial feeling in her chest. Through her therapy she learned to drive a power wheelchair (with no feeling in her hands), to eat with a fork attached to a band, and use the phone. The therapists did more than teach her skills, they became her friends.
“One of my therapists would take me to get pickles, which were my favorite,” said Erica. “We would sit and chat.”
Three months later, Erica was scared when she moved home and put all her therapy to work.
“Mary Free Bed was a protected environment, so I was scared to leave,” Erica recalled. “Once I got home I knew pretty quickly that I would be okay. The skills I learned at Mary Free Bed allowed me to be independent from 7 am – 4 pm while my mom was at work.”
Erica continued at Mary Free Bed with 6 months of outpatient therapy. Meeting her goals didn’t make life easy for her. A number of times she fell and waited for hours for someone to help her. She returned to high school in a wheelchair and had to deal with gossip and cruelty.
Erica did not let any of it stop her. She graduated from high school on time, and graduated from college with a BA in psychology. She fell in love and got married. She gained three step children and a new passion in life.
Now, Erica is an advocate for Crohn’s Disease. Her 17-year-old daughter has the disease. Erica organizes fundraisers and advocates for research and a cure. She has taken the strength and determination that fueled her recovery and invested it in others. She still credits her positive attitude, her family and friends, and God for her continued success. Erica has not just survived, she has thrived.