By Christine Bryant
It was a normal day for Natalie Theibert.
Like many other kids and teens on Jan. 13, the Reynoldsburg High School sophomore was enjoying some outdoor fun, playing in the snow that had fallen the day before with her brother.
In a blink of an eye, everything changed.
Suddenly, she lay there motionless.
Her brother quickly ran to get help, and before the Theiberts could understand what had happened, paramedics rushed Natalie to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
It was there that the Theibert family learned Natalie, a competitive swimmer, had broken her neck and had suffered a spinal cord injury.
“She endured a 13-hour surgery on Jan. 14 to remove and repair the front and back of her C5 vertebrae,” said Kristen Theibert, Natalie’s mother. “Luckily she only sustained bruising to her spinal cord during the accident.”
Currently, Natalie is at Nationwide Children’s Hospital on the rehabilitation floor with a tentative discharge date at the end of March. In her current state, she has partial paralysis of her lower body, but has a good range of mobility from the chest up.
“We are very hopeful that she will continue to recover mobility in her lower body as well, but this could take years, not weeks,” Theibert said.
While at the hospital, Natalie has continued some of her high school classes so that she remains on track to graduate with honors.
“Her current Spanish and math teachers at the high school have offered to come to the hospital after school hours to continue her lessons,” Theibert said.
At home, as her family prepares to welcome her back, they have begun plans to modify their house to not only ensure Natalie has a safe place to recover, but also provide her with the space she needs to continue rehabilitation.
The undertaking to accomplish this is tremendous, yet the Theiberts say the support they have received from the community so far has given them the confidence it can be accomplished.
“It is hard to put into words how grateful we are to our family, friends and community for the support they have shown us,” Kristen Theibert said. “From the moment they knew what had occurred, we have been buoyed by our loved ones.”
Physical therapists are working with Natalie to improve her core strength and stability. Since the accident occurred, she has had feeling throughout her entire body, though only had mobility in her arms and shoulders for three weeks following her accident. In the fourth week, her mother said, she was able to wiggle a toe on her left foot, and has since shown improved mobility throughout her body.
“She will be coming home in a wheelchair, and we don’t know at this time if it is permanent,” she said. “She will need continued care and assistance when she comes home.”
Living in a two-story house where the bedrooms and full baths are on the second floor, the Theiberts have begun planning how to change their home to meet Natalie’s needs.
“We started a GoFundMe to help finance modifications to our home that would provide Natalie a place on the ground floor – a private bedroom with a zero entry shower for her wheelchair – as well as a wheelchair accessible vehicle, and help with medical and other bills,” Theibert said.
They estimate costs will exceed more than $30,000 to cover home modifications and construction, as well as time off work, medical bills and supplies.
They’re working with Reynoldsburg city officials to work out the details of the renovation, working toward replacing the garage that is being renovated for Natalie’s space with a new two-car garage in the backyard.
The Theiberts also are altering a few things upstairs in the master bed and bath, just in case they need a temporary space while the construction is being completed.
“It is very important for her hospital-to-home transition to have a safe, private space for her,” Kristen Theibert said. “We are very grateful to our friends and the city for helping us figure out the best way we can accommodate her.”
The support from those around the family members – and people they have never met – has been extraordinary, they say.
“Meals, messages, shoveled driveways, hugs, prayers and endless cards and words of inspiration to Natalie and our family have been pouring in over the weeks,” Theibert said.
Other sources of support have included a t-shirt fundraiser in support of the family, outreach from teachers and fellow students, and several businesses, friends and family who have offered their skills to complete the project.
The family is looking for help with the building supplies, as well as from a HVAC supplier.
Through this, Natalie has served as an inspiration to her friends and family. Though she isn’t ready to talk about her experiences yet, her determination has spoken volumes.
“Natalie’s strong will and desire to heal are the driving force in this process,” Kristen Theibert said. “She is the one who has to do the hard work, while we can merely cheer her on when she succeeds and hold her close when things are tough.”
Her mom says this tragedy and Natalie’s conviction since has shown anything is possible.
“It is truly a miracle for her to be with us, and when you spend time with her, you realize there is nothing we can’t do, if we do it together,” she said. “Reynoldsburg is such an amazing and giving community, and we are truly blessed to live here.”
For more information, or to donate, go to gofundme.com/Natalies-Road-2-Recovery.