Spinning her wheelchair wheels in Whitehorse

Sometimes, Jessica Frotten's legs throw her out of bed at night. But they won't let her dance. The 22-year-old Yukoner is sitting in Tippler's Pub for lunch, her wheelchair pulled up to the end of the table.

Sometimes, Jessica Frotten’s legs throw her out of bed at night.

But they won’t let her dance.

The 22-year-old Yukoner is sitting in Tippler’s Pub for lunch, her wheelchair pulled up to the end of the table.

It’s one of the few places Frotten can get into in the winter.

And even so, she still needs help.

“It’s impossible to go anywhere by myself,” she said, smiling at her sister.

Snow-covered sidewalks and ramps, and piles of snow blocking access to the street are just some of the problems.

“There are so many little things we just take for granted,” she said.

Even leaning over to pick up a dropped phone can prove hazardous.

Frotten ended up doing an “endo” out of her wheelchair and fell down the stairs.

“It’s a completely different way of living,” she said.

And Frotten is not ready for it.

When she woke up in the hospital, just over a year ago, the first thing Frotten did was rip all the tubes out of her body.

“That’s when they restrain you,” she said. “They tie you to the bed.”

Several weeks were missing from her life, lost in a medically-induced coma.

Frotten had been at a beer-filled lunch in Whitehorse where a snap decision was made to drive to Haines Junction to go Christmas shopping.

She’d heard there was a place to buy beautiful moccasins there.

Frotten was in the passenger seat and a friend of a friend was driving.

“We’d all been drinking,” she said.

“And we were going way, way too fast.”

Frotten remembers a straight stretch of road – then darkness.

She doesn’t remember the vehicle rolling end over end seven times. And she doesn’t remember lying in the snow with her back broken in two spots, a torn aorta in her heart, all her rubs crushed and both lungs punctured.

All that really stands out from that haze of pain meds in the Edmonton hospital are when the doctors told Frotten she’d never walk again.

They were so certain of it they didn’t even bother setting her smashed and broken feet properly.

Now, Frotten’s feet are “all tensed up and totally gibbled looking.”

Rehab was even worse.

Frotten was fitted for a wheelchair that was way too big.

It messed up her posture, and she couldn’t get through doors.

“They give you the wheelchair and show you how to use it,” said Frotten.

“Then they dump you out of it and make you climb back in.

“I hated rehab.”

Over and over again, Frotten heard: “You’re never going to walk again.”

But she didn’t believe it.

“And I still haven’t come to terms with it,” she said.

“I don’t believe I’ll always be in a wheelchair.”

So Frotten started doing research, and discovered Project Walk, a series of centres across the US dedicated to helping those with spinal-cord injuries get back on their feet.

The cost – covered by US health insurance but not Canadian health insurance – was exorbitant.

Then Frotten discovered First Steps in Regina, Saskatchewan, the only rehab centre in Canada dedicated to helping people get out of their wheelchairs.

It was closer to home, but no cheaper.

Canadian health insurance doesn’t cover this kind of specialized rehab.

But Frotten was determined.

Using up all her savings, from the three jobs she worked before the car crash, Frotten got on a plane and went to First Steps.

Immediately, she was given a smaller wheelchair that suited her build and was easier to use.

That ate up thousands.

On top of that, the rehab – two nurses working one-on-one with Frotten for hours every day – is $70 an hour.

That doesn’t include the cost of renting a place to stay and eating while she’s down there.

A fundraiser in Whitehorse raised $25,000 for Frotten to keep working toward her dream.

The money allowed her to learn to flex her quads – muscles she couldn’t even feel a year ago.

And now, she can kick out her legs.

“They said I was making huge progress,” she said.

In fact, she’s the centre’s star pupil.

But Frotten still has a long way to go.

And she’s out of money.

“I ran through all that $25,000,” she said.

Now, she’s spinning her wheels in Whitehorse.

And every minute Frotten waits, takes its toll on her muscles.

Many of the people at First Steps had been injured five to 10 years ago, she said.

“And your muscles start to atrophy after just 72 hours.”

That’s why Frotten was experiencing such a startling recovery. She started working on her legs just months after losing them.

Her goal was to be dancing by her April 23 birthday.

Not being able to dance is a “heartbreaker,” she said.

But now, she might have to wait another year.

“Maybe my next birthday,” she said.

The territory pays for traditional rehab, but not the specialized treatment offered at First Steps.

Not yet, at least.

“I see rehab changing completely in the next five years,” said Frotten.

In the interim, she needs to come up with more money – a lot more.

“I am going back regardless,” said Frotten.

“I’m going to find that money somewhere.

“The banks have lots of money.”

Frotten leaves her soup partly eaten.

Food tastes different since the crash.

“It’s way saltier,” she said.

“And things don’t smell as good from a wheelchair either,” she said with a laugh.

Frotten tries to stay positive.

She even goes out dancing sometimes, although many of the local bars don’t have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. Some, she can’t even get into.

“I thought all public establishments needed to be wheelchair accessible,” she said.

Sometimes, Frotten hits rock bottom.

Used to working three jobs, she finds it hard to sit around all day.

She tried to go back to work, but couldn’t keep up with the physical requirements and didn’t want to become a charity case.

Even going out in public takes its toll.

“People really stare at you,” she said.

The most refreshing responses come from the kids who have no problem walking up and asking Frotten what happened.

And she’s not afraid to tell them.

“It’s a shitty thing that happened,” said Frotten.

“I will never drink and drive again.

“My friends don’t drink and drive anymore.

“And people who don’t even know me, but heard about it, have stopped,” she said.

Frotten would like to see everyone with spinal chord injuries go to First Steps.

And she’d like to see those doctors who told her she had no hope and didn’t bother setting her broken feet.

“Some days are crappy,” said Frotten.

“But everybody has crappy days.

“And knowing I’m going to walk again keeps me going.”

A fundraiser is being held for Frotten at Tippler’s on February 27th.

Eight local guys are going to “go the full monty” to raise money.

Frotten also has a charity account set up at Scotiabank.

For more info contact Frotten’s mom Shelagh Frotten at 668-3363.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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