By LaQuesha Moore, Contributor
As TeAnne Teamer walks down the hall in confidence, her head never drops as she looks forward. Her black cane seems invisible in comparison to her powerful gait and her body grows stronger with each step. Teamer, 26, had an emergency spinal surgery three years ago that almost left her paralyzed.
Prior to her surgery, Teamer says her leisure time was spent on activities to help her lose weight:ballroom dancing, belly dancing and social swing dancing. As she bragged about her accomplishments, her tone expressed her pride and a smile came onto her face and spread to her high cheekbones. Her tone changed to disappointment as she recounted, “I had some of worst pain of my life.”
Three years prior on a Wednesday afternoon, her back pains took a turn for the worse.
“I went to Bergan Mercy and the doctors gave me pain meds,” Teamer said. “I was back in the next day.They were going to release me until I stood up in a lot of pain.”
The pain was due to her herniated disk expanding, which led to her emergency laminectomy surgery—or spinal surgery—at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Each year, 13 million people visit the doctor for chronic back pain.When a disk herniates, pressure is put on the adjacent nerve root.Teamer’s doctors pursued the surgery to prevent other complications.
“‘We will have to alleviate the pressure or you’ll be paralyzed,’”Teamer said as she described the doctor’s words in a calm manner, almost as if she came to terms with the severity of her diagnosis.
It’s estimated that the condition leaves 2.54 million Americans chronically disabled and another 2.54 million temporarily disabled. This seemed to motivate Teamer as her head remained high while describing her life after the surgery.
Teamer transitioned to a wheel chair as she began physical rehabilitation at Immanuel Hospital. Every moment of her day was planned to prepare her for her new lifestyle while living there.
“I learned what to eat, how to get dressed and how to use my wheel chair,” she said. After excelling from the basics, Teamer began therapy, which included occupational therapy, physical therapy, aquatic therapy and a spinal cord injury class. After walking on treadmills and resting her body in a warm pool, Teamer was released around Valentine’s Day. While people scrambled to buy last-minute gifts, Teamer quickly prepared her mind and her body for extensive outpatient therapy three times a week, an hour a day.
The exercises depended on the progress during therapy. Progression was simple for Teamer. She transitioned from the wheelchair to a walker and, eventually, to a cane. “It was the worst pain of my life. The worst pain,” she said as she looked away. “I was vulnerable. I would cry because I couldn’t go when I wanted or stand when I wanted.”
Although Teamer was temporarily limited, her family supported her physically and emotionally. Her mother would help bathe her. She would socialize with her sister since her friends were distant.
“I went from independent to de-pendent to independent again,” she said. “It was social. I learned who my real friends were.” Some people would come to visit her, but this only caused her to withdraw from social situations. “As I avoided contact, the emotions came back,” Teamer said, her voice breaking as she recalled the major changes in her life.
Teamer’s outpatient rehab ended in May, and she began her summer classes at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in forearm crutches. This, of course, didn’t last long as she transitioned from the crutches to her cane. Although her ambition for progression was apparent, Teamer was nervous to return to the university. “I was scared about entering back into society,” she said.
After being medically withdrawn from school then returning with the cane, some people responded negatively to the change.
“In the fall, I was walking with the cane and people were looking at me different,” Teamer says. “A lot of people made fun of things like the‘I’m falling and I can’t get up’ joke. Stuff like that. It’s hard.” Despite the harsh words Teamer received, she had a message to giveback. “It’s hurtful, and people need to realize that you don’t understand what I’ve been through and you’re making fun of it,” Teamer said. “If you knew me, you just wouldn’t.”
Although the words did get to her,Teamer kept her confidence and demanded to be treated like everyone else. She noticed that some people did treat her different by holding doors or asking if she was okay.She appreciated the gestures, but wanted the same treatment she received before the surgery.
“I can now understand how people with disabilities come off proud. It seems rude, but we just want to be independent; we just want to do something for ourselves,” she said. This confidence is what Teamer is known for.
“There would be times where I would fall on campus, but I would always get back up,” Teamer said.“I was walking with my best friend, her brother and her boyfriend, andI fell. They were like ‘Are you okay ?Do you need help?’ and my best friend stood there saying ‘I know you TeAanne, you’ll be fine’.”
She agrees that she is independent and it’s her ambition that led her to do something she never expected: run for Homecoming Queen atUNO.
Her self-confidence was low after the surgery, the lowest it’s ever been, she said. Homecoming washer way to improve on that.
“I did a self-check one day and said ‘Oh wow, I’m feeling better,’”Teamer said. “Something about me felt broken. I didn’t know where If it in society and homecoming gave me confidence. I pushed myself more than I ever did. It was stressful since I still had walking issues.”
UNO students saw the courageous side of Teamer as she walked to various classrooms to make a name for herself. She participated in every event, even if it meant walking across a vast field in the cold. In the end, her efforts were successful as she won Homecoming Princess in 2013.
After walking away from the campaign as royalty, Teamer feels she didn’t win anything except her confidence. Her real message was that she wanted everyone to see her—the real her.
“I wanted them to know I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles, but I’m still here. I’m glad I woke up,” Teamer said. Teamer is presently pain free and has been for a year. Even though she cannot disregard the risk of future complications that her doctors predict for her, she is optimistic about her future. She plans to become an advocate for others with disabilities so she can spread her poise.
Teamer’s doctors say her condition will remain the same and she won’t get back to where she was, only close; her spirit blocks the words as she creates her own destiny. She says despite her weak ankles, she’s excelling.
“You never know: things happen,”she said. “I am getting strongerand stronger each day. I want to be healthy and think about children further in life. My body might not be able to handle a baby, but I won’t let the doctors tell me.”
Today, Teamer can be seen swing dancing for Omaha Jitterbugs with her cane nearby. If she does fall while doing what she loves, she says she “will pick herself backup and build herself up one step at a time, just like everyone in life should.”