Health TEDx

7 powerful stories of recovery after injury

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Cross-country skier Janine Shepherd was Olympics-bound in 1986, with many thinking that she was a strong contender to earn Australia’s first-ever medal at the winter games. But everything changed on a training bike ride through the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Shepherd was hit by a truck, and broke both her back and neck.

Doctors did not expect Shepherd to survive. And when she made it through surgery she received some jarring words.

As Shepherd recalls in today’s talk, filmed at TEDxKC, “The doctor came over to me and said, ‘Janine, the operation was a success … but the damage is permanent. They’re central nervous system nerves. There is no cure. You’re what we call a partial paraplegic and you will have all the injuries that go along with that. You’ll have no feeling from the waist down. At most, you might get 10 to 20% return.’”

To hear how Shepherd recovered, learning to walk again with only a slight limp, watch her incredible talk. As she explains, the key for her was realizing that she was more than just the circumstances of her body, and that she could create new dreams. For example: becoming a pilot. Shepherd took her first flying lesson in a full body cast, but within a year had earned her private pilot’s license. A commercial pilot license and instructor’s rating followed. Shepherd even went on to become the youngest — and only female — director of Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Shepherd’s is a powerful story of recovery. After the jump, watch more TED Talks from speakers who beat their physical odds and learned about their own incredible strength in the process.

Ed Gavagan: A story about knots and surgeons
Years ago, Ed Gavagan was brutally stabbed while walking down a New York City street. In this talk, he shares how watching two medical students practicing their knots on the subway reminded him of the surgeons who saved his life. A powerful love letter to medical skill from TEDMED 2012. [Read much more on his story.]

Giles Duley: When a reporter becomes the story
Fashion photographer Giles Duley found his calling when he began traveling the world and documenting the stories of the forgotten and marginalized—a boy with autism, street teens in the Ukraine, refugees who’ve spent years in camps, the injured in the South Sudan. Duley’s life, however, changed when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost both his legs and arms. At TEDxObserver, he tells his story.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight
Brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor became her own research subject when she had a massive stroke and experienced a shutdown of all her mental functions. In this talk from TED2008, she shares the incredible story of feeling herself exist on two different planes.

Simon Lewis: Don’t take consciousness for granted
Simon Lewis spent a month in a coma after a terrible car accident in Los Angeles. In this talk from the INK Conference, he shares how the experience of coming back gave him a whole new appreciation for consciousness — and for the plasticity of the brain, the incredible balance found in our bodies and for our capacity to communicate with others.

Aimee Mullins: The opportunity of adversity
Aimee Mullins is a record-breaking runner … who was born without shinbones. In this talk from TEDMED 2009, Mullins shares why the term “disabled” is no longer appropriate: because we will all face adversity of some kind, whether physical or otherwise. She shares a powerful message — that it’s not about whether you will meet adversity, but how you will approach it.

Joshua Prager: My personal half-life
In this harrowing talk from TED@NewYork, Joshua Prager describes a life-altering bus crash and its paralyzing effects. He shares a moment that was particularly meaningful for him—the exact minute when he had spent more than half of his life afflicted—and how he chose to spend it. [Read a TED Blog Q&A with Prager.]