May 23, 2015
The Sun Herald
Written by Karen Nelson
SPRINGS -- She walks.
was a little shaky at first. She watched her feet, because she couldn't feel
them walking. She hugged the wall of the rehab center at Methodist Hospital in
when Alexa Cacibauda, 22, stepped away from the walker and began taking steps,
she cried. And so did her physical therapists.
was doing it with the help of electronic devices on her legs that tell her
lower leg muscles exactly what to do and when. They coordinate the complex
movements of a step. Then another, and another.
was learning to walk again through the Quest program at Methodist. A state
vocational rehabilitation program paid for the devices -- which cost as much as
a moderately priced sedan -- and she was able to go back to college with the
goal of graduating with a degree in education just a semester behind her class.
December, she'll walk for her diploma at Mississippi State. And probably no one
will notice she has leg wraps and foot sensors working overtime with every step
before Christmas 2013, Alexa, home from college, drove to Wal-Mart to get last-minute
items for a family party.
the light turned green, she remembers waiting a few seconds before pulling onto
U.S. 90 in east Ocean Springs. Just a hint of caution; she is a careful driver.
all she remembered for a long time. A woman, who told police she was
"distracted," had already run one red light. Heading west on U.S. 90,
she hit Alexa on the driver's side as Alexa was pulling onto the highway.
Alexa's head hit so hard it broke the driver's side window. Later, she would look
at MRIs and CAT scans and see a distinctive dent in her skull from the impact.
had a severe brain injury, but didn't know it at first. She was checked out at
the local hospital and sent home.
diagnosis from a Coast neurologist, and two others, was concussion. Rest awhile
and get back into your life, she was told.
enthusiastic and rather driven 20-year-old, she went right back to college in
force, even though she lived with a constant headache. She took a full course
she had to pull back, dropping some classes. Friends had to help her organize
her thoughts and put them into words for her papers. Her mother drove up from
Ocean Springs every weekend to help her function around the apartment.
she kept pushing herself. That's what the doctor ordered, and she didn't know
any better. Then, months after the wreck, things started to fall apart.
couldn't remember her middle name.
panicked," she said.
her birthday party, she dozed on the couch. When her mother woke her to open
presents and cut the cake, she asked whose birthday it was.
was getting signs that something else wasn't right -- odd tingling in her legs.
one morning, in the summer, she awoke at her apartment in Starkville and
realized she couldn't feel her legs.
the time she reached Methodist, she was using a walker to drag her legs around,
with a wheelchair backup.
had been in occupational therapy in Starkville to strengthen her muscles, and
it was by a chance meeting between her therapist and a public relations person
that she even got to the Methodist program.
she saw Dr. Zoraya Parrilla, who specializes in brain injury and learned what
she was doing had been all wrong. Her brain needed a lot of rest. It hadn't
healed. And she needed a more specific therapy.
these were dark times. She had already lost the use of her legs from the knees
times she wanted to give up.
I never really felt like that was an option. I would talk to Mom or somebody
and sleep it off. I'd get up the next morning, and it would be a new day and
start all over.
didn't want to stop with, 'This is unfair.'"
didn't want the woman who hit her to stop her from accomplishing her dreams.
wrote her a letter last Thanksgiving, but I never heard from her. And never
expected to," she said. "I did it for peace of mind. I told her what
happened to me and what my life was like.
wanted her to know she ran the lights, was being careless, and this is what
happened because of that. So maybe she'll think about it when she's
legs are beeping'
slept the last four or five months of 2014 when she wasn't in therapy. And her
brain began to heal.
went through intense water and other therapy to remind her legs how to
function. Then she started using the Bioness L300, which consist of wraps at
the knees, foot-pad sensors and remotes for her purse. They are often used in
rehab to stimulate and exercise muscles.
she's using them to step back into life.
more you sit around, the more depressed you get," she said.
are still a problem, but she has worked up to cooking with her mom, driving and
exercising at the gym. Running is not an option.
has to be very careful with her feet. There is no feeling. Fractures and even
ant bites could be a problem.
she's headed out into the world soon. She'll do her student teaching in
Washington and have her own apartment.
reaction in public has been mixed. Her family teases her when the devices give
legs are beeping," they'll say.
Target recently, her battery died and that was quite a jolt, she said.
kids love them.
second-grade class she helped with thought she was "awesome."
said the boys announced with enthusiasm, "You're a robot!"