Paraplegic on a mission to help others in similar situations
LONGVIEW - With unabashed certainty, Judie Moffett says the sudden car accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down when she was 25 years old was just meant to be.
The 35-year-old president and co-founder of POWER Inc. (People on Wheels Encouraging Responsibility), a nonprofit organization for people with physical disabilities.
"I really do feel like this was just my fate," Ms. Moffett said. "This is what I was put here to do."
Equipped with a contagious smile, a sense of humor and a down-to-earth attitude, the single mom is full of enthusiasm and zeal for her organization and for life.
"My life - it definitely changed for the better," she said. "It's scary for me to think of where I'd be right now if I hadn't been in my accident ... I know life is good."
Ms. Moffett was honored as one of the 12 "Stars Over Longview" at Longview Regional Medical Center's annual Constellation Awards Luncheon on Monday. She is featured in the "Stars Over Longview" calendar for the month of October.
She said that when she first heard about the award, she was speechless.
"It's probably the most humbling recognition I've ever had," she said. "I had absolutely no idea that anybody was even thinking about me."
But Shelly Taylor, practice manager for Longview Regional's occupational medicine clinic, was thinking of Ms. Moffett, whom she has known for many years. Ms. Taylor is among those who nominated Ms. Moffett for the award.
"The Stars Over Longview is about women who make a difference in the community," Ms. Taylor said. "And Judie, by far, has made a big difference in Longview and the surrounding areas."
In particular, the East Texas Sports Fest for People with Disabilities, which POWER puts on each year, is one event that has helped people, especially children, realize that life is still full of fun and adventure, even if they do have a disability, she said.
Ms. Taylor gained firsthand knowledge of how important such a realization is for a person when her son suffered a spinal cord injury.
Watching Ms. Moffett over the years live her daily life like any able-bodied person helped Ms. Taylor see that despite what others may have said, her son could still have a productive life.
"I knew because I saw Judie do that," she said. "I just kept that in my mind. He can have a life. I saw her do it, so I knew it was possible. That makes such a big difference."
It has been nearly 11 years since the one-vehicle accident that left Ms. Moffett a T-4 paraplegic.
She said she remembers nothing about what happened.
Her next memories of that time come from four days later, when she was taken out of the intensive care unit. She awoke to learn she had punctured both lungs, had broken her back and had glass lodged in her skull.
"They were ready to put me in a nursing home," she said, noting that she had no insurance. "My mom and dad lived in Wisconsin at that time, and they moved back and they said, 'No way is my daughter going to be in a nursing home before me.' If it weren't for my family, there's no telling where I could have ended up."
She said the doctor continuously asked her if she had accepted the fact she was never going to walk again and accused her of being in denial because she was "smiling too much."
"I was like, 'You know what? You're not the one that's going to tell me if I'm going to walk again,'" she said. "The man upstairs is ultimately my doctor. If he wants me to walk, I'll walk, and if not, then I won't."
Her spinal cord injury paralyzed her from the chest down, a feeling she described as one similar to what a person would get when their legs or feet fall asleep and go numb.
When she was first told of her condition, she said somehow she just seemed to already know and, "it didn't seem to faze me."
"I don't know why," she said. "I just knew everything was going to be all right."
Even as determined as she was, frustration did come, though, as she got out of bed and had to learn how to make it through daily life using a wheelchair.
"It seems like no matter where you roll, you're rolling uphill. The wind is in your face instead of at your back, in the beginning," she said. "Everything is just five centimeters too far up on that shelf."
Despite whatever frustration she may have initially dealt with, she said she never went through a depression, although it is common among people with spinal cord injuries.
Today Ms. Moffett, a longtime Longview resident, works as a graphic artist at Barron's, a gift store in Longview, and spends time raising her son, having fun and running her organization.
"Regardless of my inability to do certain things, (it) literally does not mean I'm unable to live a happy and content life - that's for darn sure," she said. "People that ask me, 'How you do keep a smile on?' 'How do you stay so happy?' and 'How do you do all these things?' - all I can say is don't ever underestimate yourself. You have no idea what you are capable of doing until you're faced with something that could possibly change the way you're used to doing it."
POWER Inc. formed as the result of a friendship Ms. Moffett forged with two other people she met who were around her age and in similar situations.
"We thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we could find other people in chairs, and try to get some kind of a little group going or something?'" she said. "We could go bowling, go out to eat and just hang out."
But a year later, the organization morphed into more than just a support group.
Now, the mission of the organization, which reaches out to more than eight East Texas counties, is to enable independence for people with physical disabilities through education, advocacy and recreation. The group donates medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, and shares resources and personal experiences with those who have physical disabilities.
For the last several years, the group has also hosted the East Texas Sports Fest for People with Disabilities at Lake Gladewater. The event includes land and water sports, from horseback riding to water-skiing, which are adapted for people with special needs.
Ms. Moffett wants to see POWER grow and become more inclusive and to find corporate sponsors to help the organization become more financially sound.
More volunteers are needed, as well as donations of items such as wheelchairs.
"We desperately need people that believe in what we're doing and that will come out and offer what they can offer," she said.
Ms. Moffett can remember back to the time when she was laying in her hospital bed while her family was desperate to find information on how to help her.
But now, through her organization, she gets to be the kind of person she and her family were searching for.
She and others involved with POWER visit hospitals and try to answer questions and quash some fears about what life is like in a wheelchair.
"It makes me feel like I'm fulfilling a purpose 'cause I've been there," she said. "It's a good feeling ...
"When I go to the hospital and see somebody laying in that bed, I think about how lucky I am that I am where I am today and that I've accepted it and I've gotten through these 10 years. That makes me that much more want to keep on keepin' on."
For more information about POWER Inc., call Ms. Moffett at (903) 295-0926, or e-mail her at email@example.com
Megan Middleton covers Upshur, Gregg and Anderson counties. She can be reached at 903.596.6287. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org