An Extra Mile with a Smile - The Jessica Patterson Story

Photo of Jessica
Photo of Jessica
On a typical spring school day just over 13 years ago Jessica Patterson caught a ride home with a high school friend. The young driver misjudged his turn down the road to Jessica’s home and another vehicle collided with the car on the passenger side where Jessica was sitting. “I was seriously injured,” Jessica explained. “I tore two holes in my aorta and lost blood flow to my legs.” The teenager was left an incomplete paraplegic. She is unable to move her legs but still has feeling below her waist.

Jessica spent the next two months in inpatient rehab transitioning to outpatient treatment at the hospital for more than a year. She then began outpatient aquatic therapy and continued with that for two years. She couldn’t return to school, but teachers brought her homework and tests so she could complete the school year. “I returned to school the following fall and finished high school with my class.”

Now approaching her thirtieth birthday Jessica reflects on her life in a wheelchair. “Of course my life is much different than it would have been if I weren’t a wheelchair user. I’m thankful that my circumstances opened my eyes to being grateful for everything I have.” She acknowledges the steadfast support her family provided. “I realized how strong my family is and that I was lucky to have them.”

Jessica admits the years of rehabilitation have been especially difficult. “However, through the ups and downs I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most amazing people. I lead quite a fulfilling life because of being a wheelchair user.” She is quick to emphasize again the importance of support from her family. “I have three sisters and each has helped me in a special way,” Jessica said. “My parents have taught me to look at the positives in life and pass it on to others.”

“I also realized that nothing is handed to you. Disabled or not, you have to work hard for whatever you want to accomplish,” Jessica continued. After earning an associate degree from Morrisville State College she received a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York College at Oswego. Following college Jessica’s work experience taught her that it is sometimes necessary to teach others the importance of correct accessibility. “It was difficult to find a job where I was fully accepted by those I worked with. Sometimes an able-bodied person’s definition of accessibility in the work environment misses the mark,” she said. “I learned that I needed to speak up, express my opinion and make my needs known. You can usually get what you need, but you may have to go an extra mile as it is difficult for others to know what is best for you. That’s true for everyone, not just someone in a wheelchair.”

Now Jessica works at the Syracuse, N.Y., location of Monroe Wheelchair in the Marketing and Business Development department. “I love what I’m doing now! I believe I’ve found my calling and I look forward to work every day.” Jessica works closely with Assistive Technology Professionals helping to educate therapists and rehab facilities about the services and products available from Monroe. “I actually wear several hats within the company,” she said. A few days each week she works in the corporate office showroom. “My favorite part of my job is being able to connect with our customers on a personal level,” she said. “Because of my experience as a wheelchair user I’m very familiar with the struggles everyday life can bring. I especially like connecting with a patient with a recent spinal cord injury about the things they are able to do, despite living with a disability.” She also recently modeled for ads promoting a new Quickie 7R rigid wheelchair which she described as a “fun experience.” Each week Jessica volunteers at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital where she was once a patient. “I do peer counseling or play games with the kids. We use a variety of activities like bingo night, science projects and sports to help make the hospital less scary.”

Jessica drives herself to work and other activities using portable hand controls and takes the controls with her to use in a rental car when she travels. “It isn’t easy being a wheelchair user, but we find ways to adjust. Living in this part of New York is difficult. We get snow here!” Jessica laughed. “I have learned that a positive spirit can get you through anything.”

That positive spirit and an endearing smile surely helped set Jessica apart from other participants when she won the Ms. Wheelchair New York event a few years ago. The event focuses on advocacy, volunteer work and the ability to positively influence others. Contestants are also judged on personal interviews, poise and demeanor, platform speeches and stage interviews. “Most young girls dream of being Miss America. Winning the title of Ms. Wheelchair New York made that dream come true for me and I got to compete in California for Ms. Wheelchair America 2015,” Jessica said. “My advocacy focus for the event was independence through inclusion. I chose this because I believe by teaching young children to apply an inclusive attitude at school and in sports there will be less bullying.”

Jessica’s experience with the Ms. Wheelchair events helped her gain a better understanding of the capabilities of women with disabilities. “I competed against lawyers, judges and other professionals and also made some lifelong friends. Being with these women helped me realize that we can make a difference. The volunteer and advocacy work can be tiring, but it is definitely worthwhile.”

Jessica, her husband Jason and their three dogs live in the country outside Syracuse in a fully accessible home. “When we first decided to buy a house we realized it would cost just as much to adapt an existing house as to have one custom built,” she said. “We were fortunate that a manufacturer in our area had ADA compliance house plans and we purchased a turn-key manufactured home with a few modifications to accommodate my specific needs. The company and contractors were wonderful to work with!”
The couple enjoys a fulfilling, active life and share activities such as four wheeling, participating in adaptive sports and cookouts around campfires. “My husband is my rock on an everyday basis. He sees me at my highs, my lows and during my most vulnerable times,” Jessica said. “People say that laughter is the best medicine. Jason’s sarcasm and humor are my daily dose and a great reminder that even though things can be difficult, life shouldn’t be so serious.” Jessica recently discovered adaptive zip lining was available near her home and as this experience was on her bucket list, she and Jason gave it a try. She hopes to fit it into her schedule more often. The couple’s future includes plans for more outdoor adventures, travel and, when the time is right, having children.

“My dreams have made me who I am today,” Jessica said. “I am optimistic and confident that with enough hard work and dedication, life will bring me so much more in the years to come!”

CONTACT
Jessica can be reached at jpatterson@monroewheelchair.com

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