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Midge Dawicki talks about how’s she been able to enjoy life 18 years after a freak accident left her a quadriplegic

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Editor’s Note: For this week’s column, we interviewed Midge Dawicki, a 73-year-old Saugus woman who has dedicated her life to helping others over the adversity of spinal injuries like the one that left her paralyzed and without the use of her hands and legs. Dawicki grew up in Chelsea and graduated from Notre Dame High School in Cambridge in 1967. She moved to Saugus 45 years ago. All four of her adult children went through the local education system and graduated from Saugus High School. Prior to a crippling accident on the deck of her home, she was an avid motorcyclist and played the guitar. She also played the piano. She worked as an executive assistant for three chief justices in the Massachusetts Trial Court at 2 Center Plaza in Boston for 35 years. She has spent 10 years as a Board Member of the Saugus Disability Commission. She’s vice president of the Board of Directors for the Disability Resource Center in Salem. She’s also on the Board of Directors for the Greater Boston Chapter of the Spinal Injury Association. Highlights of this week’s interview follow.

  Q: What is significant about the date, April 26, 2005?

  A: I call April 26 “My celebration of Life Day,” because I’m still here. I’m still alive and God knows why.

  Q: Please tell me what happened that day.

  A: I was 55 years old when the accident happened. I was home from work that day. I was sitting on the porch. I got some scissors and started to cut the vegetation on the porch. I leaned on the top railing, and it broke five and a half feet off the ground, and I hit my chin and broke my neck. I didn’t put my hands out because I was afraid to get cut by the scissors. If I put my hands out, I would have broken the fall. Everything happens for a reason.

  Q: And you got paralyzed in that accident?

  A: Yes. I became a quadriplegic. I have no use of my hands and I have no feeling from the breastbone down. It was just a freak accident. It shows you how life changes in an instant.

  Q: You seem to have a positive outlook despite that terrible accident.

  A: I have to. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. I have to have a positive attitude and live one day at a time.

  Q: What do you credit for that good attitude?

  A: You can’t sit back and say, “Why did this happen to me?” You can’t think about or dwell on things you can’t do. I have my family and friends, and that keeps me going. My children are ages 52, 51, 48, 44 – three girls and one boy. And I have 11 grandchildren, from 24 to five. They’re wonderful. I consider myself lucky.

  Q: Please tell me about your early days.

  A: I graduated from High School and went to MassBay Community College and studied secretarial skills. After I graduated, I got a job in the courthouse as a stenographer in the Suffolk County Courthouse. I worked in the Massachusetts Trial Court for 35 years. After I got injured, they had me come back to the courthouse to work. Everything was voice-activated; they set it up for me. And I just retired two and a half years ago, as the executive assistant to the chief justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court.

  Q: Anything else you can tell me?

  A: I went to the New England Conservatory of Music and learned to play the piano. I also played the guitar, and I played the guitar and sang in different churches.

  Q: And you were a big biker.

  A: I rode a Harley-Davidson. I went on motorcycles across the whole country; I rode 8,000 miles. I was 40 years old when I did that. What a trip. I went to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park, Las Vegas, everywhere. I belonged to the Harley Owners Group – HOG. I was the secretary to the club. I ran the fundraisers for Ronald McDonald House. We raised $57,000 the first year and $62,000 the second year. This was for the Ronald McDonald Run 2001 and 2002.

  After I got injured, I only worked in the courthouse. I volunteered at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington every Monday – at the information desk in the East Lobby at the Lahey. On Wednesday, I volunteered at the Spaulding Hospital in Cambridge, and I visited the patients as a peer mentor. I visited the spinal cord patients.

  Q: What’s a peer mentor?

  A: I try to give hope to the newly injured spinal cord injury patients and let them know that there’s life after injury.

  Q: What else do you do?

  A: I also support the Saugus Senior Center. I think it’s a wonderful place. I think it’s the best.

  Q: After your injury, how long did it take for you to get back to the world?

  A: I spent a month at Mass General Hospital. And then I spent four and a half months at Spaulding Rehab before I got to come home to Saugus. From Spaulding Rehab, I went to on Stevens Pond. The apartment was handicapped-accessible and I spent five years there.

  I had to put an extension on my house: a bedroom and a bathroom and a new porch. And I had to put a ramp onto the house to make it all accessible. I moved back into my house in 2011.

  Q: And what’s that like now?

  A: In order to live at home, I have personal care attendants that have to be there most hours. I don’t have 24-hour coverage yet, but I am working on that. So, I think I’m doing okay.

  Q: How do you manage to get by at home?

  A: At home, I have a voice-activated computer and a voice-activated phone.

  I’m lucky I’m still here. God does not want me yet, so I’m still here for a reason. Everybody has their own plans, but things can change. God has other plans for me. I’m lucky to have my family and friends.

  Q: Was there a turning point, after the accident, where you began to adapt to and accept your situation?

  A: I think it was in Spaulding. I just accepted it. It was about six months after the accident. Things are hard to accept, but I developed a “can do” attitude.

  I go to church every Sunday and I use The Ride – The MBTA Ride – to get to church. It’s a blessing. I go every Sunday. And I go to the Mall. I love eating at Panera Bread. I just ate there on Mother’s Day.

  Q: Was there inspiration in your life?

  A: My family was coming to visit. My friends were coming to visit. They were there for me through it all. I was in the chair, but they still loved me. And I had peer mentors. It was not an easy thing to accept. I got all sorts of help. I can call people on the phone and I’m involved with conference call support groups. Peer mentors helped me and it’s good to give back.

  Q: Before the accident, you had a pretty active lifestyle.

  A: Definitely.

  Q; So, what did you do to fill that time?

  A: They asked me to speak at different schools in Wakefield. I got involved in the LAD Program – Learning About Disabilities. I spoke to the third- and fourth-graders.

  Q: Were you pretty religious before the accident?

  A: Yes. I have always been pretty religious. I taught Sunday School.

  Q: You are a member of the town’s Disabilities Commission. How is Saugus doing as far as making sure the town is accessible for all citizens?

  A: We’re working on it. Things are pretty accessible.

  Q: Anything else that you would like to share?

  A: Just take one day at a time. That’s all you can do. And enjoy your life. I learned there is life after injury. I found that life is good with many gifts from friends and family. I like going to the Saugus Senior Center and going out for lunch and dinner with my friends or family.

  I’m a peer mentor for people who are newly injured with spinal cord injuries. I try to keep a positive attitude each and every day. To date, I have retained my position as a notary, also my position as a reserve deputy sheriff for Middlesex County

QUEEN FOR A DAY: Midge Dawicki (right) and Rick Riley were among more than 100 people who attended the St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon at the Saugus Senior Center back in March when she was honored as the St. Patrick’s Day Queen. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Joanie Allbee)
An Appropriate Poem
AN APPROPRIATE POEM: Midge Dawicki said she wrote this poem about 18 years ago, before her accident. But she said it still applies to her life and she plans to read it soon at a church, where she will give a talk. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate)

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