“I’m learning to live” | Coeur d’Alene Press

COeur d’Alene — Thursday was a good day for Tricia McCullough. She received injections to relieve the pain.

“It’s something new I’m trying,” she said. “Hopefully it helps.”

The 24-year-old has been suffering from severe muscle pain and lots of headaches since the accident that left her paralyzed almost two years ago.

Today she lives in Coeur d’Alene, with the help of family and friends, and awaits admission to Craig Hospital, a neurorehabilitation and research hospital in Englewood, Colorado.

A typical day can include doctor’s appointments and massage treatments. She works on things around the house, reads, watches movies, and plays with her dog Piper.

The 2-year-old Miniature Australian Shepherd was with McCullough when the accident happened and she kept her rock.

“I wouldn’t be able to not have her with me,” McCullough said.

I have considered training Piper to be an official service dog, but that would be expensive and take more than half a year.

This is something McCullough has been unable to commit to.

“I don’t want to go seven months without her,” she said.

McCullough grew up in Coeur d’Alene. She was studying nursing at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., and was scheduled to graduate with a four-year degree when she left her parents’ house after a Christmas visit in 2021. She was about 30 miles east of Missoula on Interstate 90 in a 2004 Dodge Ram. When I hit the black ice and lost control.

The truck hit the guardrail and overturned. McCullough remained trapped upside down for about an hour before he was rescued and airlifted to Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.

Piper’s lover was thrown from the truck and escaped, despite being secured with a belt.

Her volatile companion was missing for two 4-degree nights and was the subject of a search that included a foot chase up the mountain before he was found with the help of a K-9 rescue group and reunited with Tricia.

Tricia’s father, Dave McCullough, said she suffered a broken neck, a broken arm and was tragically paralyzed.

There is hope for a full recovery, and the family continues to pray.

“There are a lot of new protocols,” Dave previously told the press. “They get people walking again.”

Physical progress has been slow for McCullough, if at all.

She can move her shoulders and arms to some extent, and turn her head. But she cannot use her hands and cannot move from the chest down.

She readily admits that she struggled to stay positive, and to have faith.

“I’m not doing well on that front at all,” she said. “I’m just doing what I need to do so far, for now, I guess.”

The hope of walking or running again, or water skiing or going for a bike ride, to return to the active life I knew, began to fade.

The lack of improvement in mobility is frustrating.

“I’m pretty sure I won’t get any more returns,” she said.

So she is doing her best to adapt to life as it is today.

“I’m learning how to live and I’m learning how to live as I am now,” she said.

Since the accident, people have sent her information about different treatments, some experimental. They share research they’ve found about recovering from injuries like hers.

It’s nice but it doesn’t lift McCullough’s spirits.

“I don’t have a lot of hope on that front,” she said.

She said there are diseases, such as cancer, that receive the most attention from researchers and the most money from donors.

“They would rather know how to cure cancer than how to cure paralysis,” she said.

When she was first hurt, she received messages and photos from strangers who shared stories they hoped she would find encouraging. Others sent donations with encouraging messages.

“It was really nice to read those things,” she said. “It’s nice to hear about people’s interest.”

Accessibility, or lack thereof, has become a major issue. She often encounters obstacles in public places and has no way to move or get around them.

“It’s something I’ve never thought about before, but I encounter this all the time,” she said.

For example, if the hairdresser is on the second floor and there is no elevator, you will not be able to get there. Or if there is no space to use the side ramp for her truck, it prevents her from coming or going.

People are helpful when you’re out and about. For example, a visit to a farmers market usually leads to encounters with fans and well-wishers.

“It’s about being more aware of people who are not you,” she said.

McCullough is determined to return to Carroll College and finish her degree in nursing. She only had one semester left when the accident happened.

Working in health care is still a goal.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I’m not really ready to go back and resume the whole bachelor’s degree. I don’t want to throw everything away.”

She has been searching online for places to live in Helena, but has had no luck so far.

“I will keep searching,” she said.

In late August, she finally got her own custom wheelchair, which helps her be independent and comfortable.

“It usually takes two months,” she said. “It took a year and a half to get mine.”

It has a wider range of motion than a loaner wheelchair, and is quieter, smoother and narrower, allowing for easier mobility. She can tilt and lift, has an improved suspension system and includes protective padding for her legs and guardrails that help her body and arms maintain their position.

Touch screen buttons make control easy and headlights show the way during evening walks with Piper.

“It’s a nicer color, so that’s always good,” she said with a laugh.

There are new interests.

She reached out to the crochet group that meets at Hayden Library and is trying to figure out how to crochet without being able to use her hands.

“It would be great if I could do that,” she said.

McCullough is also looking forward to adaptive snowboarding — which allows people with disabilities to ski — and getting back on the slopes in the winter.

And the deep blue still calls.

Before her accident, she spent her summers swimming, skiing, tubing, canoeing and reading by a lake or river.

She would like to be able to swim in one of North Idaho’s lakes and hopes to find a place with a lift that will allow her to do so from a dock or boat.

“I love the water,” she said.

(Tags for translation) Tricia McCullough

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