Saturday November 4, 2017
By: May Allam
Life can change in a blink of an eye. No one expects to be a victim of a car accident, and survivors are never prepared for a life after. It brings some of your dreams to an end, puts your life on hold, and changes your priorities. It’s a fate twister, a moment you wish to re-wind or delete. It leaves you with anger, shock, and many unanswered questions. It changes your life forever. No one knows the impact of such an event better than Marianne Awad who survived a fatal accident that left her in a wheel chair.
At 6:00 am, on September 1, 2012, Marianne was driving with some friend to the North Coast, when a speedy driver hit their car from the back, with full force. Marianne, sitting in the left back seat, received the full impact of the accident that left her with a broken back, a damaged spinal cord, a broken arm, legs and both hips. Marianne was 30 years old. She had undergone 9 surgeries since the accident. Marianne’s best friend’s mother was killed in the crash.
Today, Awad, a telecommunications engineer, works as Service Delivery Manager at Orange business services in the IT field. She is also raising awareness about spinal cord injuries.
WOE: How can your struggle give inspiration to others?
MA: To start, I must say that, among the spinal cord injured I am not the best to be considered as inspirational. We have too many wheelchair users who are doing the impossible. They are silent role models who exist among us, yet we can’t see them and the society is not much helping with their struggle.
If there is anything we want people in wheelchairs to learn from our struggle, is that one can do anything, and that nothing is impossible. You are your own the motivation, yet the barrier to achieve your goals. Do not blame anyone or anything because you are capable of doing whatever you want. Explore your hidden powers and use them, you will be amazed with what you can achieve and thought you couldn’t do.
WOE:Do you sometimes get broken moments? How do you deal with them?
MA: Definitely, and if anyone says elsewise he/she is not honest. Whenever I have any of these moments, I just remember that anything God allows in our lives is always for our best. I remember how far I made it and that I lived through worse moments and this makes me want to complete the journey and not stop after all what I have accomplished.
WOE: Do you think psychotherapy can help people in your situation to adapt to the new changes in their lives?
MA: Yes, sometimes we need to have psychotherapy, which is not a shame. Few months after the accident, when I realized that nothing is getting any better I went into deep depression and I sought the help of a psychotherapist. We have to have this kind of awareness as a society. Psychotherapy is not a shame and sometimes it is our only way out.
WOE: What is your biggest struggle, emotionally and physically?
MA: Physically it is when I want to do something and I try and just fail to do it, which leads me to the emotional part when I have to be dependent on others, even with the smallest daily tasks.
WOE: Do you sometimes feel angry towards the person who caused the accident?
MA: Normally people might say they felt that at the beginning, but then concur it. For me it was the opposite. At the beginning, I was not even thinking about him. But later, I sometimes feel upset because he showed no responsibility at all towards the consequences he caused.
WOE: Have you considered starting a support group?
MA: I would love to and would be happy to help people who might need such a group and we can start something together.
WOE: I am interested to learn about social media campaign, and I also want to know how has your personal experience affected your knowledge of this illness?
MA: First, me explain the reasons I started this small awareness campaign. The aim was not to show the struggle we face on a daily basis. Before my accident I knew absolutely nothing about the SCI [spinal cord injury] and right after it happened, I thought it was curable. Then, by time, when I understood it is not, I started to explore its consequences and tried to adapt. Also, in Egypt we have no specialists in this injury who can help you deal with its different symptoms [which is really a long list]. When I traveled to Germany for my back surgery, I learned there about a medical domain called “paraplegiologie.” They also taught me many techniques, to cope with the situation, that we either do not know about, or have no one to show them to us, especially at the beginning of the injury.
In parallel, I searched medical articles and forums online that are SCI related, and what are the different techniques that can be used. Two years after my injury, when I started catching up with my life and going back to work, I realized that as a society, those who are not impacted by this injury- have no knowledge about it. This was my real motivation to start writing those posts, to inform the non-injured about SCI, not to sympathize with us, but more as to understand it, and ours needs, and to be more aware of it.
In addition, I was also hoping to get in touch with those who were recently injured, and not familiar with the new changes in their lives, to help shorten their recovery road.
So, the short posts I wrote, which each tackled a specific topic, include the knowledge I gained both online and from abroad, my personal experience in the last 5 years since the accident, as well as exchanges with Alhassan Foundation, an Egyptian NGO which helps SCIs.
WOE: How is your family coping and how do they support you physically and emotionally?
MA: I am convinced wholeheartedly that usually when a very dear person to you is in pain, one feels more pain than he is actually feeling. My parents can be very strong, powerful and hefty from the outside, yet I know they are wrecked, heartbroken and they burst into tears when I’m not around.
My parents and siblings are one of the main reasons why I’m still holding it together till this moment. What they have done and still do for me, motivate me to work hard and make them proud, to make them see the fruitfulness of their efforts with me throughout the years.
WOE: Do you think you can expand your campaign further to reach NGOs, as some people cannot afford treatment for disabilities and rely on help from such organizations?
MA: That could be like a dream coming true. Through “Alhassan” I have seen many cases with nihilistic resources, and I can only imagine – relative to my struggle- where they can be. I have had financial help from my bigger family and friends and have managed to travel abroad to fix my back, while I know many others who cannot, and who are desperately in need of help. I wish I could participate in anything that can help them.
WOE: Have your colleagues supported you in your trip to social awareness of the effects of living with disabilities?
MA: I have family, friends and colleagues over social media, who have helped spread the posts I write, and not only that, but also encouraged me a lot with their comments and compliments to keep writing.
WOE: Do you suppose your campaign on social media can help raise funds for improving infrastructure and conditions for the disabled?
MA: I haven’t particularly thought about that, but of course any help I can provide to make our lives easier I am open to, anywhere good this campaign might lead to, is a step forward in my success journey.
WOE: Do you find media like TV and newspapers to be more effective than Facebook and other electronic social media in awareness campaigns?
MA: In my opinion, TV is the biggest platform to raise awareness in the society, while social media only focuses on new generations. I would say the most effective would be a combination of both together.
However, I feel that TV and newspapers are not focusing on issues that deserve to be known. In Egypt, strangers stare at you in the street, buildings everywhere -even schools and colleges- don’t have wheelchair access for disabled individuals, and more obstacles that just increase the feeling of despair for the injured ones. I believe this is due to a huge lack of awareness, and with small collaboration it could be taken care of.
WOE: Egypt still lacks physical facilities for disabled people. How has that affected you and do you have any plans to help improve the situation?
MA: People with disabilities remain a marginalized and largely overlooked part of Egyptian society. According to the World Health Organization, people with disabilities represent approximately 10% of the Egyptian population, or about 8.5 million people. Egypt’s disabled population is a considerable minority whose rights and livelihood are ignored and whose future lies in the hope that some attention might be brought to its concerns and needs.
This affects all the disabled and not only myself; the lack of access and restrooms and other preparations for disabled just makes them more and more depressed and not open to moving forward with their lives. I know many who do not see the streets for months.
I would dream that my posts and our struggle reach responsible people in any and all domains, to hopefully make them take into consideration our needs. Hopefully, we can together help to improve this situation
WOE: What are your dreams and aspirations for the future, both for yourself and the society surrounding you?
MA: Looking forward to see Egypt turning into a more aware society, being able to correctly help the disabled and put them into consideration; knowing that we are a population that do exist. For myself, I would like to continue working on my awareness campaign and hope I can be heard on the widest scale.
WOE: Have you considered moving abroad for further treatment?
MA: Yes of course, I travelled once for a surgery needed to fix my back, and if in the future a treatment is found for my case, I would go abroad. Throughout my medical experience in Egypt, I had a couple of surgeries, which went wrong, and I had to redo them abroad, one of which was my back surgery.
Till now there is no effective treatment for my case, just trials but yes for treatment I would definitely move abroad, yet I will make it back once done.
WOE: What is one thing you would advise people living around you and who are not aware of how to cope with disabled people?
MA: I would like people to read about SCI to understand it, and meet with people with disabilities and see what can be achieved. Society needs to know we exist and how we struggle to be part of it. We need help from them and for that to be achieved people need to be aware of the SCI.
WOE: What is the message you want give to people who are going through similar situation?
MA: This is not the end of the world, it’s just a beginning of a different life and YOU CAN make it, you can live it, you can achieve things that you yourself didn’t think achievable.
Visit Marianne Awad’s Facebook page to follow her SCI awareness posts.
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