Patient Shows Tenacity and Focus
From body builder to pageant queen, Marsha Schmid keeps moving forward.
On March 30, 2011, Marsha Schmid headed to the chiropractor’s office for what was to be a simple, routine adjustment. It was a visit like she had made at least 50 times before.
The 33-year-old Peachtree City, Georgia, resident was at the top of her game. She was the number one salesperson in the entire nation for her company, where she sold diabetic testing supplies.
Marsha was also a nationally ranked figure body building competitor, a sport that she had only recently taken up and quickly risen through the ranks. In addition to all of that, Marsha was a young newlywed and the proud mom of a 5-year-old son. By any measure, life was good.
“I was on top of the world,” Marsha recalls. “Everything was just wonderful.”
But on March 30, the trajectory of Marsha’s life changed.
“I went into the chiropractor’s office, and they did the typical thing they do – a neck twist,” Marsha recalls. “But it didn’t feel right. Afterwards my vision was blurry. And then, when I went out to my car, I called my husband and said ‘I just don’t feel good. I can’t drive home.’”
A second neck manipulation was done, which dissected an artery to her brain and triggered a seizure.
The series of events that followed included Marsha being rushed to the emergency room of a small, regional hospital where she spent 12 hours. During that time, Marsha was still able to speak, but her speech was slurred.
“Unfortunately, the doctor on call did not diagnose what was going on,” Marsha says. “And my mom had a feeling something wasn’t right. After about 12 hours and lots of phone calls, she had me moved to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.”
There, in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Marsha’s condition continued its decline. Soon, she could no longer speak and was slipping in and out of consciousness. She had had a stroke.
Marsha was paralyzed from the neck down and placed on a ventilator. She was no longer able to speak, open her eyes or breathe on her own.
Eventually, Marsha was stabilized enough to be transferred to Shepherd Center’s ICU and later to an inpatient room, beginning what would be a determined journey to recover as much of her speech and movement as possible.
For the first year after her stroke, Marsha couldn’t speak at all, nor could she move.
Slowly, however, she regained function on her left side. She eventually regained some function on her right side, as well, though it remains weak.
There were other important and memorable milestones during her time at Shepherd Center. For the mother of a young son, perhaps the most meaningful accomplishment early on was learning to bathe her child again.
“You take so much for granted in life, and that’s one of those bonding activities for a mother and child,” Marsha says.
Learning to swallow again was another hard-fought victory that involved a great deal of therapy. The first thing she was able to swallow on her own was pudding.
“I remember being so proud of myself, I took the container with me to save it,” Marsha recalls.
After about six weeks, Marsha was discharged and returned to Shepherd Center in September 2011 for outpatient therapy.
Throughout all her treatment and rehabilitation, Marsha remained driven and determined.
“I have always been driven,” Marsha says. “I was focused on doing the best I could and regaining as much function as possible. I wanted to defy the odds.”
When it comes to stroke and recovery, Marsha notes, often the gains come and then there’s a plateau. And that’s when many people give up – after hitting the first plateau, she says.
“But you can’t give up. You have to keep on and keep on,” says Marsha, who’s done exactly that.
These days, Marsha’s life is busy, filled with a peaceful, happy rhythm that involves spending time with her son, volunteering, continued physical therapy and working out at a gym with a trainer.
Marsha also recently competed in the Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant, a competition that requires giving two different, three-minute speeches onstage in front of a panel of 12 judges, a live television audience of more than 100,000 viewers and a packed theatre audience. There were also several on-stage interview sessions throughout the competition for each contestant.
For someone who spent one year unable to speak at all becau4se her vocal cords would not close, delivering a speech was nothing short of remarkable – a major milestone in her determined journey.
“Even the most able-bodied people are afraid of giving speeches,” Marsha says proudly. “It was a huge sense of accomplishment. I was able to ride onstage and give my platform speech in front of the whole audience and judging panel.”
The speech she delivered that day was titled, appropriately enough, “Never Give Up,” and Marsha was ultimately named first runner-up in the competition and was selected as Ms. Congeniality by her peers.
Less than 60 days later, when the winner resigned, Marsha was awarded the Ms. Wheelchair USA crown in September 2019. She now fills a role that will allow her to represent women with disabilities and serve as a spokesperson and representative for Ms. Wheelchair USA and The Dane Foundation.
“As I lay almost lifeless in that hospital bed, I never envisioned eight years later, I would have such an important role. I’m honored to represent the “differently-abled” community,” Marsha says.
“I wish to bridge the gap that often divides the able-bodied and disabled communities.”
Written by Mia Taylor
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.