Profiles in Strength – Janine Shepherd

Profiles in Strength – Janine Shepherd

Profiles in Strength – Janine Shepherd

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Janine Shepherd‘s dream was to ski in the Olympics for Australia. For the team, autumn training meant regular bike rides in the elevation of the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney. Five and a half hours into their ride, Janine was standing in the seat of her bike, conquering the hilly terrain when suddenly the world went black.

Pain consumed her body. Janine was hit by a speeding utility truck with only 10 minutes to go in the bike ride.



Rescue helicopters airlifted Janine to a spinal unit in Sydney where doctors discovered her back and neck was broken in six places. Five broken ribs, broken bones in her hands and a broken collarbone and a gash filled with gravel on her right side, a massive head wound exposing her skull, and internal bleeding rounded out her injuries. 

Janine described the ensuing 10 days as though she was looking at her body from another place, trying to decide whether to return to it or not. On one hand, she felt as though that broken body could no longer serve her. On the other hand, she knew if she didn’t return she would leave this world forever. Finally, on day 10 after her accident, she made the decision to return to the broken body that lay on the bed and finally, her internal bleeding stopped.

The next step was to address her most worrisome injuries to her shattered L1 vertebra. Doctors removed as much shattered bone as they could from her spinal cord, removing her broken ribs to reconstruct her back and fusing her T12, L1 and L2 vertebrae. She woke up in intensive care to excited doctors who pronounced her surgery a success, but her dreams of being an Olympian were over. She was told she was a partial paraplegic who would never walk again.

Six months after she entered the hospital in a helicopter, she was wheeled out in a wheelchair by her father. The head nurse’s parting words were those of warning. She warned Janine that something was going to happen as soon as she got home  she was going to become depressed. In the spinal ward, being in a wheelchair was normal. At home, the nurse warned, she would suddenly realize just how much life had changed. The nurse was right. 

Once home, Janine began to question whether life was still worth living. Whether there was still joy to be had in the world with a body that was so broken. It wasn’t until she discovered flying that she began the creative process of rebuilding her life. As doctors put her body back together, Janine turned her attention to the theory of flying. She began to walk, first assisted then unassisted. As her strength progressed, so did her ability to fly. Just 18 months after leaving the spinal ward, Janine became an instructor at the same flying school where she took her first lesson.

Janine’s painful journey from paralysis to the pilot seat was successful, in part, because she knew she wasn’t alone. She believed that there was happiness and wholeness ahead. You don’t have to experience your pain journey alone either. North Lakes Pain Consultants are here to help.



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