Student takes healing steps after paralyzing car accident

July 15, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) — On June 22, Florence native Mary Catherine Rawlinson was the last person to walk down the runway of a fashion show called Project Rollway at the Shepherd Center for neurological injuries in Atlanta.

The steps she took at the fashion show were the latest in her recovery from a July 15, 2017 car accident.

“We were headed back from the beach,” Mary Catherine said. “It was 9:15 p.m.-ish, and we were passing Churchill Downs (a subdivision in Myrtle Beach), and a car hit us head on.”

They had gone to Lee’s Inlet Kitchen for supper, said Mary Catherine’s mother, Stephanie.

“We had been at a swim meet here in Florence at Francis Marion (University) that day,” Stephanie said. “My other child swims competitively. We went down to Lee’s to eat dinner.”

Mary Catherine’s father was driving the car, Stephanie was in the front passenger seat, and the children were in the back with Mary Catherine behind her father.

Mary Catherine woke up about a minute after the accident, still in the car.

All four were taken by ambulance to McLeod Medical Center. As the family recovered, the next morning Mary Catherine entered surgery.

“I was a C6 incomplete, which means that my spinal cord wasn’t severed,” Mary Catherine said. “Dr. (Christopher) Paramore did my surgery. He fused my C5, 6, and 7 vertebrae.”

She has a cadaver bone in her neck, Stephanie said.

“She had a lacerated liver, a nicked aorta and an L4 fracture. They knew we needed to fix the neck. They came to me and said, ‘We don’t have a choice, we have to fix the neck.’ My husband was in surgery at the same time. He had broken his right leg in three places down below the knee. I had her in the PICU. My other was in the PICU. I was the only one that was released at that time.”

Stephanie gave credit to her sister Celia for help during that time.

After the surgery, Mary Catherine, who could always feel when she was touched, couldn’t move anything below her neck.

On the recommendation of Paramore, Mary Catherine was taken by ambulance on Aug. 2 to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Mary Catherine began to rehabilitate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or on some days 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Gradually she moved from basic things like eating and brushing her teeth to fine motor skills, and eventually she moved to strengthening her legs to be able to walk again.

It was nearly a month before Mary Catherine got movement back in her toes. Now she can walk approximately 600 feet with the help of a walker.

“There was this patient, and he was standing and starting to walk and all that, and he was upset,” Mary Catherine said. “I was like, ‘How is he upset when I can’t move?’ Well, mom and I prayed that night.”

The next morning they told her therapist about how occasionally Stephanie could feel the two toes on Mary Catherine’s left foot move.

“Well, that’s when I moved my big toe, which I had never done before,” Mary Catherine said.

She stayed as an in-patient in the center until the third week of October. Then, she spent the rest of the year as an outpatient. Mary Catherine started school at Wilson High School in late January with the assistance of the No Obstacles charity that helps everyone adjust to their new situation.

“My classmates were always supportive,” Mary Catherine said. “They were always like, ‘If you need anything let us know.’ They didn’t act like anything was different.”

Her favorite class for the rest of the year was biology. Mary Catherine also is involved in the election campaign of Gov. Henry McMaster. Her mother is the Pee Dee lead for Attorney General Alan Wilson’s re-election campaign.

Mary Catherine said McMaster called her one of his biggest supporters.

When he made his recent campaign stop in Florence, Wilson donned a new fashion accessory during the speech he made after receiving several endorsements from Florence County officials: a pink wristband with green lettering.

The words “Faith-Determination-Hope” are on one side of the wristband. The other side of the wristband says ”#TEAMMCR.”

“I don’t know how you explain it,” Mary Catherine said. “It’s been awesome.”

Community support has been amazing, Stephanie said.

“The week that she came back from Shepherd, they did the play ‘High School Musical,’ and they (all the actors) wore the bracelets. That just said a lot about our community. It said a lot about Florence. When she came home, that was the first thing that she saw.”

Many local politicians, such as S.C. Sen. President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, gave money to help the Rawlinsons during Mary Catherine’s recovery.

“We had to totally rehab our house,” Stephanie said.

She added that she was in awe of the progress and efforts Mary Catherine made to recover from her injuries.


Information from: Morning News, http://www.scnow.com

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