Woman Strives to Help Paralyzed Friend Regain Independence

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Denise Tweddell

Not all life-altering paralyzations are the result of a catastrophic car accident or an injury sustained during military service. Some creep up and take their victims quietly, unknowingly.

“This injury is just as tragic in its senselessness but not just any person could come through it with such strength as my hero, Denise,” Amy Ruggeri explained about her lifelong friend Denise Tweddell. “I cannot remember ever not knowing Denise. She’s always been there and I will always be there for her.”

On March 10, 2003, Tweddell started to experience arm and back pain. The following day, she visited a doctor and was treated for a pinched nerve. Just a day after that, Tweddell’s life changed forever.

“She was at work and went to take her medications only to be shaking so bad that she couldn’t do it on her own,” Ruggeri said. “A coworker helped her lay down on a heat pad and 10 minutes later, she screamed and rolled over only to be paralyzed from the neck down. The doctors had little faith in her recovery as the diagnosis was a tumor on her C7 vertebrae that would leave her paralyzed.”

Riggeri watched her best friend struggle for months on end to try to complete tasks many may take for granted. Tweddell had to relearn how to do every day tasks, such as feeding herself, opening a door and brushing her teeth with her paralysis.

“She spent almost three months in the hospital recovering and regained the use of her arms and right hand,” Ruggeri said. “She wheeled herself out of that hospital and is now considered an incomplete quadriplegic.”

Prior to her injury, Tweddell taught preschool. Despite the struggles Tweddell now faces, she longs to get back to working and being as independent as possible.

“She has continued to inspire her loved ones every day since,” Ruggeri explained. “She is, however, still without the freedom and independence to leave her home at will or run errands on her own. Her goal is to get back to working in the community and presenting to students about life with disability.”

Though Tweddell is capable of driving an adapted vehicle, she has no hope of affording one on her fixed income. Because of this, Ruggeri entered Tweddell into a competition for National Mobility Awareness Month. The competition, which relies on votes, results in a vehicle for the “Local Hero.”

“Her strong moral sense and fierce independence keeps her from asking for such things herself, so please allow this to serve as my personal recommendation for Denise,” said Ruggeri. “What better way to repay her for being a hero and my inspiration to never give up. I can think of no greater gift than having her independence and freedom back again.”

To vote for Tweddell, please click here. 

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