Determined Spirit: Jen Goodwin’s Story of Life After Her Spinal Cord Injury

Nearly a decade ago, Jen Goodwin was on top of the world. She’d graduated from the University of Arkansas, bought her first house, and adopted her first dog. Then she got her dream job as a pharmaceutical sales rep, which came naturally to her with her friendly personality, big smile, and a real talent for sales. It seemed like life couldn’t be better. Then everything changed in the blink of an eye.

The Day Everything Changed

A fun day of boating and swimming at the lake with her neighbors in the summer of 2008 turned into a nightmare after dark. She and another neighbor were out in his boat when he fell backwards onto her head and then used her neck almost like a springboard to push himself back up to stand again. Immediately, she saw a flash of bright white and had a warm pleasant feeling that gave way to searing pain, and then she realized she couldn’t feel her legs. It was clear something was very, very wrong.

jen goodwin picAt first, her neighbor didn’t believe that she had been hurt, even claiming that she was faking her injury. In cases like this, when someone says they’re hurt or have possibly sustained a spinal cord injury, it’s important to keep them still and get help from emergency services as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen for Jen. Due to her injury, she couldn’t sit up or hold on to anything to maintain balance during that terrifying trip over choppy waters back to the boat ramp. It took a lot of pleading for her neighbor to relent and, after loading her into the floorboard of his truck, he eventually drove her forty-five minutes away to the local hospital.

As soon as they arrived, paramedics sprang into action to help Jen. It was obvious that she was seriously hurt, but the true extent of the damage wasn’t fully known until they ran some tests. Despite her pain and fear, Jen tried to maintain a positive attitude, but when the doctor sat down with her to tell her that her neck had been broken and her spine was severely compressed at the C5 and C6 level, leaving her quadriplegic and unlikely to ever walk again, she finally let herself cry. She knew then for sure that this wasn’t a simple injury that could be quickly fixed. Life had changed forever.

Life During Rehab

Naturally, Jen was heartbroken at all that had happened to her, but she didn’t let herself stay down for long. She was ready to take on whatever challenges lay ahead. Her surgery was scheduled on a Sunday, and she transferred to the rehabilitation center on Thursday, one of the fastest post-surgery patients that the staff at the hospital had seen.

jen goodwin quote 2Her first goal was just to raise her hand high enough to scratch her nose. Initially, she had no lower extremity movement and no control of her triceps, because of the level of her injury, but she kept that tenacious drive and continued working hard to meet challenges head-on and eventually was able to achieve that first goal she had set for herself. “I just looked at it like, ‘This is my chance, so I’m going to give it absolutely everything I’ve got every single day,’ and because of that, I was able to get a lot stronger,” says Jen.

Although she was determined to push through therapy and work hard, it felt like a lot of the techniques and skills they were teaching her in rehab wouldn’t be possible for her to master at first. After a lot of practice and determination to gain back some strength, she received validation that hard work and dedication to her goals made things possible when others might have thought it wasn’t possible.

Altogether, she spent nearly two years total in rehabilitation therapy, including a controlled intensive therapy study at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta Georgia. She worked as hard as possible to reach her goals, and during that time, she also met some of her best friends. They affectionately dubbed themselves, “The Quad Squad,” and they still meet up regularly for vacations and get-togethers.

Her ultimate goal was to learn to walk again, and finally, she was able to walk down and back again on the length of a basketball court. It took an hour and was achieved with the help of two therapists, a spinal electronic nerve stimulator (or e-stim), and a walker. This was a turning point for Jen in figuring out her next goals.

“I decided I could either learn to walk, or I could learn to live,” she says of her decision to move on after focusing entirely on rehab for over two years. It was only because she gave her all and worked as hard as she could for so long that she felt able to let go of the old goals and focus on new ones.

Moving Forward

There were all kinds of new challenges to face during that early period of life after her injury. Once rehab was over, Jen had to put the skills she had learned into action and worked to develop new strategies for accomplishing basic, daily activities around the house, and even in getting around in the world, such as learning to drive again with the help of a modified car. She devoted nearly a year to designing and planning an accessible home to have built next to her parents’ house, and another year was spent learning how to live in it on her own.

One additional aspect Jen had to consider was learning how to self-cath. It can help to have a catheter supply provider with trained product specialists on staff who are willing to take time to listen to concerns and questions. She found 180 Medical through a spinal cord injury event and has been with us ever since. “I absolutely love 180 Medical. You guys sci connection facebook linkhave always been great about getting the supplies I need and letting me know about any new products that come out. I can always rely on you to get my supplies to me when I need them,” says Jen.

Depending on the level of injury, some may not be able to manipulate a catheter on their own. Jen tried out a few different catheter options while using a gripping catheter clamp to better hold them, but when she tried out a newer option the Coloplast SpeediCath Compact Set, she knew she’d found the perfect fit for her needs. “It’s so nice that they fit right in my purse. They’re super discreet and ready to go, and I can actually grip them with my hands.” Since Jen loves to travel, it’s super handy to have an option for catheters that are lighter and take up way less space in her luggage too.

It wasn’t always easy. From the frightening night of her injury through years of hard work and dedication to physical and rehabilitation therapy, the journey to where she is now was long and challenging. Jen understands that things can seem bleak to those who have been recently injured, but after going through all she has, she encourages others to not lose sight of goals or give up.

Thinking about what might come next was never far away from Jen’s mind as she settled into daily life. There were a few big dreams that she had always wanted to accomplish that kept coming up in her mind, and she decided she wasn’t going to let her spinal cord injury get in the way of achieving those dreams.

Check out this awesome video from Permobil Corporation to meet Jen in person as she talks a bit about her goals and her experiences with her wheelchair.

Find out all about the next chapter of Jen’s life and the new goals she set for herself in Part 2 of our two-part series.

jen goodwin part 2

Call Toll-Free (877) 688-2729

Join the 180 Community

Subscribe to receive our monthly newsletter with product news, tips, events, and more!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

About the Author
Jessica is the Marketing Specialist at 180 Medical and has been a part of the 180 family for over 9 years. In her downtime, she enjoys creative writing, making art, seeing new places, and spending time with her loved ones.