Ilene Withers woke up Easter morning 2016 and noticed that something was off. While laying on her side she tried to pull her leg over her, but noticed it would n’t move — right then, she realized something was wrong. Soon, she would learn she had suffered a stroke that affected the right side of her body from her.
“I expected a basket of pretty eggs and that is not what I got,” said Withers, a Loveland resident.
After she underwent hospital rehabilitation at Medical Center of the Rockies followed by outpatient rehab for the remainder of the year, Withers was able to relearn how to do things she had done for so many years. She said she is able to walk, but she opts not to in large crowds and uses a motorized wheelchair instead.
She did not regain everything, losing the use of her right arm.
“Now I guess I am left-handed,” she said.
This experience came to mind when she was tasked with a capstone project for her master’s degree, leading her to create SuddenlyDisabled.com, a blog in which Withers shares her experience and aims to inspire, inform and support those who have become suddenly disabled.
Withers, who retired several years ago after 19 years working for the registrars office at Colorado State University, decided to take a swing at her master’s degree in English professional writing from Northern Arizona University, which she does online. She said for her capstone project, she decided to create the site to share her story of her and spread the positivity she radiates.
“There’s no use crying over it,” she said. “I can’t reverse it. So I just kept going.”
Through her blog, Withers shares what it is like to come back and recover following a sudden, disabling incident; she offers blog posts about her own experiences, tips and tricks, resources and more to help those who may be in the same position she was.
She said she sees a special magic in the resources and tips that she provides, hoping that it can help those who are feeling deeply saddened or struggling with their sudden disabilities.
“I like to help people,” she said. “I don’t like to think people are sitting around depressed and not knowing how to do things. My old boss always said I had a huge amount of influential curiosity. I face things like a puzzle.”
While the blog was put together as part of a class project, she said she plans to keep it going to continue helping people as well as help her organize her thoughts for a nonfiction book that she is looking to write. The focus of the book — which she plans to title “Where can I pee?” — Will take many of the writings she has put into her blog de ella as well as tackle topics of Americans With Disabilities Act regulations, some of which she said need changing.
This includes having automatic buttons or automatic doors on every public door and, especially, every restroom for people like Withers who can’t open a manual door as easily; this is also what inspired the title of the nonfiction book that she hopes to publish.
Going forward, Withers said she is planning to dedicate her time to helping others who, like her, became suddenly disabled, and fighting to get changes to ADA regulations to offer better service to those who are disabled.
But no matter what path that takes, Withers said she just wants to help people who are struggling with a sudden disability realize they can do anything they set their mind to.
“I don’t want people to give up,” she said. “I want them to realize you can puzzle it out and it is okay to ask for help.”