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Gretchen and her family were on a three-hour layover at an airport in Dallas, Texas.

Gretchen decided to make the most of her time by calling some friends at a nearby town. Shortly after, they got together to relax, have dinner, and enjoy each others company.

On the drive back to the airport, the unthinkable happened - Gretchen’s car was struck by a drunk driver. The direct impact on the passenger side, where Gretchen sat, was devastating. The collision caused the vehicle to flip and land in a ditch. Gretchen recalled being cut out of the vehicle by EMS and rushed to the local hospital.

This terrible crash left Gretchen with a significant spinal cord injury. This made it impossible for her to create any movement. Gretchen’s surgeon tried to repair as much of the damage as possible. But, her prognosis was still in question. With each day that passed, Gretchen knew something was very wrong.

After spending twelve days in a Dallas hospital, Gretchen was transported via helicopter to a hospital in Vallejo, California, for extensive inpatient treatment.

Upon discharge from the Vallejo hospital, Gretchen returned home to Fresno. Once home, she continued with outpatient therapy. Progress was slow. Gretchen came to realize that motivation and determination would be key during her rehabilitation process. Gretchen, who was now in a wheelchair, knew that her goal was to stand. She wanted to improve. Gretchen stayed motivated and gave her maximum effort with each therapy session.

One day, Gretchen’s mother was at a volleyball game. There, she overheard someone speaking highly of San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation Hospital. Her mother shared this with Gretchen and began getting more information. Eventually, Gretchen made the switch to San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation’s outpatient services.

As Gretchen started her rehabilitation at SJVR, she recalled, “I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew what I wanted. I wanted to make sure I had a team that could help me be independent.”

The outpatient physical and occupational therapy teams at SJVR worked with Gretchen for almost a year. They worked together towards the goal of standing with an assistive device. With the support of her family and her undeniable self-determination, Gretchen was able to make great progress. This culminated with finally achieving her goal. She could stand with the assistance of a walker. Gretchen's spectacular progress only fueled her confidence to continue striving for more of her dreams and goals.

During this time, Gretchen decided to return to medical school. She stated “My family was the driving factor in me going back to medical school. It was a very hard decision at that time." The courage to pursue medical school is a tribute to Gretchen's determination and the support of her family.

Today, Gretchen is in her final year of medical school and is excited to begin her residency. While Gretchen is no longer involved in our therapy program, she continues to attend support groups at San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation Hospital. She hopes to soon become a peer mentor in an effort to give back what was offered to her. There is no doubt Gretchen will continue to defy the odds and achieve any goal she strives for!