Alexia Antczak-Bouckoms is as unique as her name.
She is one of those larger-than-life people who achieves what seems unreachable to most of us. She’s completed 14 marathons. She’s raised $500,000 for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. She’s influenced the direction of public health and dental care in America. And she accomplished all of these successes in the years after sustaining a spinal cord injury.
“You’d be surprised by what you can do. You have to figure it out for yourself, and you are the only one who knows what you are capable of,” Alexia says.
In 1996, Alexia woke up after 41 days in a coma, defying her doctors’ predictions. A tree fell on her car during a storm, killing her husband and son while driving home from soccer practice in Connecticut. She, her daughter and her second son survived.
“At first I didn’t want to be alive. I had no idea how to move forward, but I did it by taking little steps,” Alexia says.
For years, Alexia was determined to see the day when she could walk again. She pursued care from the top spinal rehabilitation centers in the nation, including Craig Hospital. Two years after her accident, she came to Craig for an Interdisciplinary Outpatient Evaluation (IOE) designed especially for people with spinal cord injuries.
“Craig is a powerful place, and the staff at Craig are wonderful,” she says.
During her weeklong IOE at Craig, she received input from a diverse team of specialists who analyze all aspects of a patient’s health, life and desires. The evaluation team includes doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and an expanded team of other experts as needed, including respiratory therapists, speech and language therapists, rehab technicians, therapeutic recreation specialists, driving therapists, wheelchair technicians, dietitians, psychologists, and community reintegration experts. The goal of the yearly assessment is to find ways for people with spinal cord injuries to live their best lives. Craig has been offering IOEs for 50 years and performs more than 1,000 each year.
Alexia began redefining her life by training for marathons. She worked out for hours each day, bench lifting 185 pounds despite her small size. This past year, she completed two marathons with her hand-crank wheelchair to celebrate turning 65 years old—the Hartford Marathon and the New York City Marathon.
“It’s really important to have movement. Craig recommended an Easy Stand, which helps me transfer from my chair to a standing tray so I can be weightbearing. I have so much equipment, I could open a gym,” she quips.
Alexia received her doctorate in dentistry from the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. She then went on and earned a doctorate in public health from Harvard University. As a dentist, dental researcher and Harvard public health faculty member, she traveled the world, speaking in England, Italy, New Zealand and more. One of her main career focuses was conducting meta-analysis on the cost effectiveness of dental treatments, including periodontal disease. She also adapted the idea of “quality adjusted years” from the SCI rehabilitation world and applied it to dentistry—something no one had ever done before.
When reflecting back on her life, Alexia still feels like there is much she needs to do and that she survived the accident for a reason. While she contemplates her next big move, she’s writing a book titled Can’t Wait to Walk—meaning she wants to walk but can’t hold off living her life right now. She’s wondering about building sustainable houses. And she’s kicking around the idea of becoming a “sit down” comedian.
“Humor helps every situation, and I can poke fun at things with my three-foot pole that others wouldn’t touch with their ten-foot poles,” she says. “I’m thinking about calling myself Leftover Lexi because I didn’t let the accident stop me. My leftover life after the accident has been full and amazing.”