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My Life's Miracle

March 16, 2010 | by Reyna Susi

A car accident almost left me paralyzed.

My miracle began 10 years ago in Miami. I was a carefree 16-year-old girl, just completing my junior year of high school. One evening I told my parents -- who were out of town -- that I'd be going to a party. (I of course spared the details.) I went out and bought a new dress, got my hair done and off I went with my best friend. The party was great, and as the night got longer, a few people offered me a ride home, but I was planning to ride home with my friend.

We had woken up at 6:30 that day for school, and as we were getting ready to leave the party, the clock read 3:30 a.m. We had been awake for almost 24 hours. We got into the car, buckled our seatbelts and began our ride home. I reclined my seat to take a nap and told my friend to wake me when we get home.

I quickly fell into a deep sleep, and minutes later I was jolted awake by a strong banging sound as I felt myself going forward in full force. My shoulder hit the dashboard and I was suddenly on the floor of the car. I opened my eyes and all I could see was a white cloud of smoke mixed with the awful smell of the air bags. All I could feel was the bruise on my shoulder from hitting the dashboard. All I could hear was the voice of my friend calling my name. I still wasn't sure what had happened. I managed to sit back up on the seat and my friend used a Swiss army knife to quickly rip my seatbelt off. As soon as we were both unbuckled, we opened the car doors and walked out. We saw that we’d hit a parked truck, which ended up on the sidewalk, and knocked down a palm tree and two parking meters.

We walked across the street and I sat down. I began to feel a burning sensation on my chest from the combination of the seat belt and the air bag. My adrenaline was running so high that I felt no other pain. I didn't have a clue of how badly I was hurt. I was 16 years old and panicked. Finally, my friend’s mother arrived at the scene and called an ambulance. The paramedics tried to convince me to take me to the hospital, but I refused. I had skipped curfew, my parents were in Canada and my sister was in Mexico. I couldn't go to the hospital! I told them that I only felt a bruise and some burning, and that I’d be fine.

“Tomorrow morning you could turn the wrong way and paralyze yourself,” the paramedic said. "Let’s go for some X-rays and you'll go home in the morning.”

Thank God for his words.

They placed me in a neck brace, put me on a stretcher, and off we went in the ambulance. At the hospital, I underwent hours of examinations, as I was put in every position including two CAT scans. Finally, they left me to rest.

Soon after, a nurse came in the room and told me that I was okay and could go home. He took off my neck brace and took me off the stretcher. At this exact moment, while I was sitting on the edge of the bed, a doctor came running into the room, screaming at the nurse. "What are you doing?! This girl can't go anywhere! Put everything back on!" I almost walked out with a broken neck.

By this point, my aunt had arrived at the hospital and contacted a neurosurgeon -- one of the best in the country -- who had performed non-emergency surgery on my uncle the week before. This surgeon just happened to be at the hospital and available. She took a needle and poked my shoulder and then poked my toes. “Which one is sharper?" she asked.

“My feet,” I said.

"Okay, you are going into surgery."

I was speechless, scared and shocked. I shouted “no” and began to cry.

I was millimeters from never moving any part of my body under my neck again.

"You can either go into surgery,” she said, “or you can become paralyzed from the neck down." She explained that between each of the vertebras in our back there are two ligaments that give us flexibility, and then our spine which holds our back straight. Both of my ligaments had snapped in the accident. The next thing to break would be my spine. I was millimeters from never moving any part of my body under my neck again.

They finally got in touch with my father to get consent to move forward with the surgery. (I was underage and needed my parents' permission.) They put the phone to my ear and my father asked if I wanted to delay the surgery for 24 hours until he arrived. I said, "I’ve been staring at the ceiling for 12 hours. I need to move." Thank God we didn't wait. The surgeons would later discover that I had a blood clot, and even two more hours would have been too late.

At this point, some of my friends began to arrive, and a rabbi, too. I looked at him and said, "I am scared,” as a tear rolled down my face. "Don't be scared,” he told me. "It will all be okay.” He began to pray. He's the only one I told how scared I really was.

A few minutes later, I was in surgery, which took over three hours. They removed some bone from my hip, placed it in my neck in between the vertebras, and tied it with a metal rod. By the time I woke up in the ICU, my sister, grandmother and aunt had arrived from Mexico. I was completely immobile and dependent on everyone around me. My sister kissed my forehead, brushed my hair, and put cream on my hands and face. After hours of not moving, undergoing surgery and having random people take care of my most private needs, the touch of a loving, familiar hand was incredible.

The doctor told me, “You must have a guardian angel. The glass in the car didn't shatter, so you came out without a cut. Had there been two more people in the car, you would all have died from the impact.” (In fact, two more people were supposed to come home with us and they decided at the last minute to go home with someone else.)

After leaving the hospital, I was home-bound for a month. My parents bought me a recliner that pretty much stands you up all the way. My mother bathed and dressed me. I wore a plastic neck brace and did physical and occupational therapy. Everything looked like it would get back to normal.

Eight weeks after my surgery, I went for a routine check-up. I had been feeling some pain in my neck and could feel something moving inside. Yet the doctors had been telling me not to worry and to just bear the pain. I wish that's all it was. At my check-up, the doctor took a set of routine X-rays, took one look at them and flipped out. The wire was broken and the bone hadn’t fused. The first surgery was a failure and I had been walking around with a broken neck!

The first surgery was a failure and I had been walking around with a broken neck!

I immediately went for a second MRI and a second surgery. They took more bone out of my hip, placed it in my neck, tied it with a metal plate and four screws. I wore an ugly neck brace for months and missed many memorable moments of my senior year of high school. Yet I recovered and survived.

Potential Revealed

Passover is a time of moving from slavery to freedom. It marks the birth of the Jewish nation. We didn’t deserve to be saved. God raised us from the 49th level of impurity and saved us only because He loved us.

On the seventh day of Passover, the Jews were surrounded by enemies in all directions and the sea in front of them. Again, we didn't deserve to be saved. But we stepped into the water and God split the sea for us.

At this point, the Jews understood that not only had their salvation come from God, but that it was He who put them there. God orchestrates all of the events and it is God who redeems us. Our role in the process is to use our free will to attach ourselves to God. That’s the greatest freedom.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz raises the following question: If we look at the word nisayon -- test -- we find the word nes -- miracle. In what aspect is a test a miracle?

Rabbi Chaim Luzzatto says when trying to reach higher levels, "The beginning is work, but the end is a gift." Often, we are faced with a situation that seems like a mountain we don't have the ability to climb. It stretches us to a point that is beyond our dimension. Yet it is at this point that we must decide to take a step forward and leap anyway. And when we miraculously arrive on the other side, God is revealed -- because only He can do the impossible. In this way, our potential is also revealed to us and realized. That is the miracle!

God did not have to save me. I didn't deserve it. But He saved me out of pure love. Not only did God create the redemption, but he put me in that situation as well. God orchestrated all the events so that one day I would choose to do His will, and in that merit He redeemed me. God wanted me to go through a near-death experience to see his tremendous love for me. If it wasn't for that night 10 years ago, I wouldn't be here right now.

After the second surgery, I felt a strong need to thank God for saving me not once, but twice. So I took upon myself to stop eating non-kosher meat. I would never ask for pain like this again, but the experience made me appreciate that everything God does is for the good. And that made me the woman I am today.

Unconditional Love

The Almighty performed 10 plagues in Egypt, to demonstrate His absolute dominion over all aspects of creation. So too, God revealed Himself to me with 10 miracles at the time of the accident:

  1. There was nobody else in the car. The doctors said that if there were two more people in the back seat (i.e. those two friends who changed their minds at the last minute), we would all have died from the impact.
  2. My friend was driving a Volvo, which has mechanisms to prevent the car from crunching up.
  3. I didn't see the accident happen. I woke up from the impact. I don't have memories that haunt me.
  4. The front windows were double-tinted, which prevented the glass from shattering. There wasn't any glass in the car; otherwise our faces would have been scarred for life.
  5. Even though I was able to walk out of the car, the paramedics insisted that I go tot the hospital.
  6. I almost left the hospital with a broken neck, and a doctor came in just in time to prevent that from happening and ordered that all of the equipment goes back on.
  7. I was millimeters from being quadriplegic. The ligaments between my vertebras were torn; the next thing to break was my spine.
  8. One of the top neurosurgeons in the country was on call that night, and my aunt knew her from the surgery on my uncle the week before.
  9. Had we delayed the surgery until my parents arrived from Canada, it would have been too late; I had a blood clot in my shoulder.
  10. My broken neck – and the need for a second surgery – was caught on X-ray just in time.

People ask me what I learned from my experience. I learned about the value of life and of time. But most of all, I learned that there is an energy beyond myself that helped me recover. After an accident like this, any 16-year-old could have fallen into a deep depression. But I didn't. I believe I have the power to overcome anything because the Almighty loves me, and I reached for that force to help me recover.

Because the Almighty loves me, I believe I have the power to overcome anything.

That night ten years ago, God showed his unconditional love for me. That night is my own leaving of Egypt. I now know that the hand that redeems me is the hand that puts me there as well. It is up to us to see that the hardships we experience are just to help us perfect ourselves. It is up to us to see it all as love.

From 49 to 50

Fifty days after leaving Egypt, God gave the Jewish people the Torah at Mount Sinai. Yet if God took us out of Egypt with love, and His purpose was to give us the Torah, why didn't He just give it to us right away?

The answer is that we weren't ready. In order to receive the Torah, we had to first go through a process of preparation. God saved us from Egypt as a gift, but the rest is something we must work for. God showed us a window into our potential and gave us the confidence to turn that potential into reality. But it's up to us. The 49 days are for the Jews to prepare themselves. But the Torah is only given on the 50th day -- to show us that nothing is possible without God’s help.

And that's what the rest of my life is for. God saved me 10 years ago and gave me all the tools to overcome life’s most difficult obstacles. And now, every time I have a hardship that I feel is too much to handle, I go back to that place of energy and strength, and draw from it. That is why we are commanded to remember every day that God took us out of Egypt, when His love for us was never greater. . And that is why, every day, I never forget the miracle of my own life.

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